The Criminal Justice Process
In Talking to the District Attorney as a Witness subject, When someone is arrested, they may or may not ultimately have charges filed against them. This means someone can be arrested for a crime, but the district attorney will review the police report and any available evidence to determine if the crime alleged was actually committed. If they feel they cannot properly or successfully prosecute for the crime, they may not file charges at all.
However, once charges are filed, the District Attorney will likely be doing everything in his or her power to collect all the evidence possible in order to prosecute and convict the person accused. This often involves getting testimony from witnesses both for and against the person accused. If you are asked to give a statement, you may not be required for Talking to the District Attorney as a Witness.
Role of the Talking to the District Attorney as a Witness
The role of the District Attorney is essentially just to prosecute the case. In California criminal courts, the prosecution holds the burden of proof that a crime was committed, meaning the District Attorney must show that every single element of the crime alleged was committed beyond a reasonable doubt. If there is any doubt as to any part of the criminal elements, the accused cannot be convicted.
For example, in a prosecution for theft, the accused must have intended to deprive the owner of his property. If the accused took the property on accident, he cannot be convicted.
In order to prove a case, the District Attorney often will seek to interview and examine witnesses in court. A witness may explain that the defendant was present at the scene of the crime, mentioned that he intended to commit the crime, or simply that the crime occurred. Each of these statements will be used to prove an element of the crime.
Why a District Attorney May Want to Talk to You
A District Attorney may want to speak with you for any number of reasons. The District Attorney may think you witnessed the event, may understand that you know or are close with the defendant, or simply may want to see what you know about the crime committed.
As mentioned, your comments may be used to aid the prosecution, whether you know the defendant or not. It is important to know your rights as a witness to avoid giving a statement you do not want to give.
When You MUST Talking to the District Attorney as a Witness
If you are called into court and put on the witness stand, you will be sworn in by the clerk of the court. This is the commonly heard phrase:
“Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God?”
When on the stand, you will be required to answer the District Attorney’s questions. When testifying under oath, the District Attorney can ask you any question, over the opposing attorney’s objections, and you will be asked to answer these questions. You are never required to incriminate yourself, so you may refuse to answer any question whose answer will put you in jeopardy of being prosecuted for a crime. The only way you can still be required to speak and answer questions, even if they normally would subject you to later prosecution, is if the District Attorney offers you immunity. This means that no matter what you say on a specific subject, you will not be prosecuted based on those comments.
However, if you are not on the witness stand, you generally do not have many responsibilities to the District Attorney. The District Attorney may subpoena you to compel you testify, though. If you are subpoenaed, and the subpoena is properly executed and delivered, you will be required to come to court. Otherwise, you may be held in contempt and face serious penalties for failing to cooperate.
When You May NOT Want to Speak to the District Attorney
There are many reasons one may refuse to speak with a District Attorney. First and foremost, it can be intimidating arriving to court or speaking to someone that feels powerful. It also may make you feel at-risk, like what you say could be detrimental to your own freedom. If anything you say even slightly could be construed as incriminating, you may choose to avoid speaking to the District Attorney altogether.
Further, if you are close with the defendant, you may choose not to aid the person prosecuting your friend or relative. Many people distrust those in law enforcement fundamentally, and this may be a reason not to speak with a District Attorney, as well.
Finally, many people grew up going in and out of the court system. It may be difficult to see a District Attorney and not experience feelings of distaste from previous interactions with District Attorney’s.
Whatever the reason, you do not have to speak with a District Attorney outside of court if you so choose.
When You Can Refuse for Talking to the District Attorney as a Witness
If you are not in court, the District Attorney cannot require you to speak or answer any questions. You may always speak to the District Attorney if you wish, but you do have that option.
This means you have the right not to go to the District Attorney’s office or have the District Attorney come visit you at home or at work to talk about proceedings. You are allowed to end any conversation you have with the District Attorney at any time you wish, and need not give so much as a reason for terminating the conversation. You do not have to answer any questions, and can even answer some while refusing to answer others. You also do not need to take or make a phone call with the District Attorney or anyone else in the court. You do not have to respond to messages or voicemails.
Again, you have the option to speak with the District Attorney, but may not want to.
We’re Here to Help
Are you under police investigation for a crime in the greater Los Angeles area? We cannot stress enough the importance of consulting and retaining a lawyer to protect your rights, privacy and future.
Need a Criminal Defense Attorney? CALL NOW: 310-274-6529
Seppi Esfandi is an Expert Criminal Defense Attorney who has over 20 years of practice defending a variety of criminal cases.