Ethical Concerns in Grooming the Criminal Defendant for the Witness Stand

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In this age of reality television, when just about any area of endeavor is Monday-morning quarterbacked by talking heads of various levels of expertise and vitriol, the criminal trial remains a front contender, whether by virtue of celebrity or heinousness. From Phil Spector’s wig to Scott Peterson’s suit and return to natural hair color, the criminal defendant’s appearance and demeanor at trial are the subject of scrutiny and debate in the media. The media’s attempt to turn this into “entertainment” belies the importance of the criminal defendant’s appearance and comportment at trial to the trier of fact, whether that be judge or jury. And nowhere is the defendant’s behavior more scrutinized than when he is on the witness stand. Consciously or not, the jury evaluates the defendant’s demeanor on the stand and incorporates that assessment into its finding of “credibility.” How a defendant delivers his testimony is often as crucial as what he testifies to. How does defense counsel go about preparing her client for the witness stand?

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