What can I expect at trial?


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SquirrelNuts
August 26, 2005, 12:13 AM
Here is the short version of my story. There are two problem pit bull dogs in the neighborhood. The owners take minimal precautions to contain them. The dogs are well known to seek out and kill domesticated animals and to charge at people. They have been a constant problem since May of this year and there is an attack of some form on average once every two weeks. The owners have received citations and went to court on July 21st. I showed up to testify as a witness. Their attorney got a continuance until August the 25th. I went back to court today LOADED with evidence and they asked for a Jury trial. Now, since the July hearing and today's hearing, I was charged by the pit bulls on my own property and shot one of the dogs in self defense. There is no problem with the county police and animal control as to whether I did anything wrong...I am clear there 100%.

I plan to follow this case to the jury trial, as these dogs have attacked my family twice in three months. I expect that at the jury trial, the attorney will try to make my look like a crazy gun nut because I shot the dog.

A few more details...we had a prowler in our back yard late one night and the police came out. After the first attack by these dogs (did I mention their names are "Gator" and "Rage?") I have kept the shotgun in the same room as me and it moves from room to room with me. On the morning of the 20th, I heard my wife scream and I ran for the shotgun. The next thing I heard was "outside." Now, at this point, I did not know where my wife was, and I assumed she was outside. I run outside and the dogs are coming right towards me. I fired six shots at the dogs, hitting one of them. The dog that I hit was shot in the ass. I was aiming at the dog coming at me, missed and hit the other one in the ass as it was leaving. The six shots scared the dogs and they took off. I have evidence that proves the shooting happened in my front yard, plus a witness that heard the shots, ran to her front door, and saw the dogs run out of my yard.

What are some questions I can expect to hear that will make me sound crazy so I can prepare a good answer? Also, what are some good suggested answers? Please post the question and the answer in the reply.

Some questions I expect to be asked:

Why do you own guns?

Why did you grab the shotgun when you heard your wife scream?

Why do you keep the shotgun at the door (it was there when I heard my wife scream)?

Why a shotgun?

Why 00 buckshot?

Any help will be GREATLY appreciated and used.

-Robert

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DeseoUnTaco
August 26, 2005, 12:25 AM
You've given many details but left out some very important ones:

Is this a criminal case? Have you been criminally charged? What are the charges?

If this is a criminal matter, you MUST do whatever you can do to get together money for a good criminal defense lawyer. You can't handle a criminal case on your own and your chances of a good result with a public defender are not so hot. Remember, if you lose and get a felony conviction, your gun rights and voting rights are gone, probably forever. For me that's an even bigger deal than a short prison sentence would be.

If this is a civil case, well, fill us in! If so, how much are they asking for, have they tried to settle, etc.

SquirrelNuts
August 26, 2005, 12:27 AM
Ok, sorry about that. I am not being charged with anything criminally and will not be. The trial is for the dog's owners, not me. I am simply there as a witness. However, I do expect their attorney to make me look like a crazy gun nut, and I am simply "training" for court and the questions she may ask.

-Robert

Sam
August 26, 2005, 12:41 AM
Criminal trial of dog owners for ?? Public endangerment or whatever.
I will take it you are a witness for the prosecution. Someone from the DA's office should contact you prior to the trial and question you much like they intend to in court. You can get some pointers from them on how to deal with the defense. Short sweet and to the point, no opinions no guesses. Don't say squat about the shooting unless questioned. I suspect the the prosecutor may add additional charges since you were attacked and had to resort to gunfire, in that case they might not even call you, if there is a seperate action concerning the incident in which you were attacked. Either way the prosecutors office should give you guidance on dealing with the defense. It may not happen till a couple of days before trial so don't get too fidgety. If someone from the prosecutors office does not go over it with you, make sure to vote against him next time around, he isn't serious.

Sam

DJJ
August 26, 2005, 01:00 AM
I'm not a lawyer, but I'm inclined to think if I were the DA, I'd object to every one of those questions on the grounds of relevance. As a regular (non "expert") witness, you're there to report what happened as you perceived it "through your senses" (as my CCW instructor put it) - what you saw, heard, etc., and not to give opinion based on knowledge or experience. So you report the fact that your wife screamed, and you report the fact that you took up the shotgun and went outside, etc.

22-rimfire
August 26, 2005, 01:09 AM
I would consider a head of time the kind of response I might give to questions such as these. I would answer any question factually and in very suscinct fashion. There is always the possiblity of a civil action against you for shooting one of the dogs, so I would be careful as your testimony will be recorded. I also would not depend on the DA to defend you as they are making a case against someone else and you could be used without regard to your future liabilities.

gtd
August 26, 2005, 01:10 AM
"I am not being charged with anything criminally and will not be."

Are you sure? Are you certain your testimony will not lead to your arrest? Has the prosecutor given you a written promise of immunity?

"I respectfully decline to answer that question on the grounds that it might tend to incriminate me."

That's not legal advice. If you might stand a chance of being charged with a crime, you need to consider hiring a lawyer before you go to court.

SquirrelNuts
August 26, 2005, 01:13 AM
This really isin't a criminal trial... The charges are ordinance violations.

One of the best things that I have ever been told about the use of deadly force is, "if you have time to ask yourslef if this is the right time to use your gun, it isin't the right time."

I found that statement to be 100% true in my case. There was no thought process involved...it was almost automatic. I have read stories of shootings and got some classic symptoms. I got "tunnel vision" in which I could only see what was directly in front of me. I never heard a thing. I don't mean that the first shot deafened me...I never heard shot 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, or 6.

My next door neighbor heard the shots and ran outside. She automatically associated the gunshots with the pit bulls. She saw me on my front stoop and yelled, "Robert, did you get them?" several times, but I never heard a single word.

I am *slightly* worried that they will try to sue me in a civil case. They would be hard pressed to go anywhere with five witnesses (including my other neighbor who they charged), but it sure would cost me a lot of money.

-Robert

SquirrelNuts
August 26, 2005, 01:19 AM
Another neighbor shot another dog (and not in self defense) and he is fine. Animal Control is tired of coming out week after week for this stuff. I told the animal control officer what happened and that I shot at the dogs. I have talked to him several times before, even predicted some things that came true. He wants to do everything he can to stop them, not me.

-Robert

Agent P
August 26, 2005, 03:55 AM
Robert, I hope all goes well for you and you receive the most favorable outcome (like the removal of any remaining psycho dogs!). I know where you're coming from; my neighbor had a vicious dog that bit a kid on our property and almost ripped the lip off of my sister-in-law. The dog was finally put down after my neighbor sicked it on his gf during one of their fortnightly fights. I often wished to have a gun when that dog was alive. Apparently my parents didn't think that was necessary; I'm just glad to not have to worry about it anymore.

beerslurpy
August 26, 2005, 04:06 AM
I think it would be totally sweet if normal people could become involved in the justice system and things would be rational and logical instead of being the modern day equivalent of a secret handshake.

It seems like 90 percent of what goes on in a courtroom (at least in my limited experience) is that unless you follow certain specific forms and know exactly what to ask for, you basically have no rights and the judge, rather than safeguarding those rights, will go out of his way to help you fit down the toilet. And it has nothing to do with legal principles. Unless they think that you can successfully challenge or appeal anything bad they do, they will basically run roughshod over you.

Then again, my experience is with traffic court. I'm sure that criminal court is a lot more fair. Oh wait, that isnt fair either unless youre rich. Ok, so if justice isnt found in courts, where is it found? What the ???? happened to our country?

Double Maduro
August 26, 2005, 04:35 AM
SquirrelNuts,

The prosecutor will tell you what to expect on direct and on cross examination.

As for the dogs owners, Don't screw around, sue them, for assault, mental anguish, and whatever else your attorney suggests.

If you can't find an attorney that will handle the case, call Judge Judy.

Good luck.

Most Pit bulls are really sweet, smart, devoted dogs. There are some owners and breeders that don't care which dogs they breed and some that breed for mean. These people should be fed to their dogs.

DM

Rockstar
August 26, 2005, 02:07 PM
Double Maduro is right. Don't waste a lot of time "projecting" and fretting over something that might or might not happen. Talk with the prosecutor; answer all questions truthfully. Don't be paranoid abouit owning guns. Don't be defensive.

CAS700850
August 26, 2005, 03:52 PM
Assuming this is a misdemanor charge, you may want to give the prosecutor a call, rather than waiting. Reason being, many misdemeanor prosecutor's have many trials scheduled at a time, and the schedule will be determined that morning. He may not call you to discuss the case before that morning, expecting your case to be continued for older cases. Sorry, it's just the way you have to do business when teh case load is heavy. Don't wait, call him/her to talk.

As for concerns about your testimony, I have personally experienced situations where a witness began to make incriminating statments, and either the judge or myself stopped to advise the person of his/her rights. Miranda may just apply, as you are compelled to be present, and are subject to questioning.

Personally, I wouldn't worry about it, in terms of incriminating questions. Trial is not a time for fishing for new charges, especially on the State's own witnesses. Tell the truth, and things will be fine.

Pilgrim
August 26, 2005, 09:37 PM
This really isin't a criminal trial... The charges are ordinance violations.
If the defendants can lose money or freedom, it is a criminal trial. If they can lose their freedom, there will be a jury trial unless the defense waives their right to a jury.

In any event, go to court looking like John Q Public citizen. Wear a coat and tie. Get a haircut. Shine your shoes. When asked a question by counsel, wait a few moments for opposing counsel to object if he chooses to do so. Don't worry about composing your story. You will be asked a series of questions by counsel to lead you through your story in a manner requiring only short answers on your part.

My personal opinion is the defense counsel is not going to want to explore the shooting of the dogs in your yard while they were attacking you. Especially since it occurred while you were frantically trying to locate your wife and protect her if these dogs were attacking her as they have you and your family in the past.

If you have already been interviewed by the police with regards to the shooting and you told them you shot the dog, then there is little point in being evasive about it during your testimony. If you are really worried about this point, and you haven't admitted it to any police officers, then you might ask the district attorney before the trial if he is going to introduce evidence that one of the dogs was shot in your yard. If he asks who shot the dog, you can tell him you are reluctant to say if he plans on prosecuting the shooter. He should quickly figure out who shot the dog and say one way or the other if he is going to investigate with an aim towards prosecuting the shooter.

Pilgrim

Standing Wolf
August 26, 2005, 10:06 PM
Double Maduro is right. Don't waste a lot of time "projecting" and fretting over something that might or might not happen. Talk with the prosecutor; answer all questions truthfully. Don't be paranoid abouit owning guns. Don't be defensive.

Amen! You deserve public commendation, not fear.

Topgun
August 26, 2005, 10:54 PM
It sounds to me that the advice you seek is.....LEGAL ADVICE.

There could easily be a civil case later for the loss of the precious pooch.

If I were you, I think I would pay a local lawyer a couple bucks and ask his advice. Even to the extent of paying him to accompany you to the trial to ...legally.... screen the questions before allowing you to reply.

Not that I support the theory, but your troubles could begin at the trial. Even as a witness and especially as a witness who destroyed property in the action.

WT
August 26, 2005, 11:05 PM
Here's a link to a website that might answer some of your questions.

The Hip-Pocket Guide to Testifying in Court
http://www.njlawnet.com/njlawreview/testifyingincourt.html

22-rimfire
August 27, 2005, 12:43 AM
In my neighborhood, it is legal to discharge a firearm in your yard or on your property. But, in the city, it may not be legal. Hence, there is the distant possibility of civil action against you. That said, the jury will probalby find you innocent or not recommend a penalty. However, that is after you spent several thousand dollars with your attorney to defend you. Remember, it is your home owners insurance they would be after, not you directly (unless their is "criminal activity" which the homeowners policy would likely not cover). Everyone seems to be looking for the big score these days and I find it offensive. If it happens, just drop the glove and whip their butts! Just kidding. Makes a good case for the million dollar general liability insurance (umbrella policy). Just remember how much my advice is worth... exactly what you paid for it.

SquirrelNuts
August 27, 2005, 07:40 AM
UPDATE

I spoke with the supervisor for Animal Control yesterday for a hour and a half. The owner has been to his office twice and has called him four or five times a day for five days demanding that I be charged with cruelty to animals. The supervisor makes all final decisions and he told me that I will not be charged. I gave him the facts, and it is an obvious self defense case to him. On the day of the incident, the owner told animal control that he got rid of the dogs three weeks ago. When the owner called the animal control supervisor after getting his first $1,000 vet bill, the owner told the supervisor he still had the dog (and wanted me to be charged). He also admitted to the supervisor that the dogs were in fact out running loose. He has already lied big time.

The animal control supervisor wants to come to my house on Monday to see the scene for himself. I have evidence that proves the shooting took place in my front yard.

I received a story second hand, but I am not 100% sure that I believe it. My wife and I went to court as witnesses on Thursday, August 25th for ANOTHER case where the pit bulls attacked and killed their own puppy. Her attorney asked for a jury trial in the state court. The owner and the attorney leave the court. The owner goes back to work (apparently at a law office) and her coworkers suggest that she goes to the magistrate court and swear out a warrant for my arrest for every charge that they can find: discharging a firearm, cruelty to animals, driving around the neighborhood with a gun on my front seat (this is legal with and without a CCW in my state anyway), putting flyers on (not in) mailboxes, and I believe there was one more. Apparently, she goes to the magistrate and is talking to a "clerk." The owner get tired of waiting for so long and she is getting "wrong answers" from the "clerk." The owner throws a fit, throws her hands in the air and cusses out the "clerk." The "clerk" turns out to be a magistrate court judge and the owner is escorted out of the building, sans warrants for my arrest.

I do not 100% agree that this is true because 1) dealing with mailboxes is a federal crime, and a magistrate court judge could do nothing about it 2) having a gun in my truck is not illegal (I have a CCW, but still not illegal if I didn't) 3) I find it hard to believe that someone who works in a law office would cuss someone out at a courthouse (likely on camera) and 4) why would she tell her friend about an embarassing situation that she had to be escorted out. If that happened to me, I would not tell a soul I know.

The only thing that looks bad on my part is that I shot the female dog in the rear. The male was the closest to me, and thus the greatest threat to me. The dogs were so close that I did not have time to mount the shotgun to my shoulder and properly take aim. I fired the shots literally from my hip. I fired two rounds at the male dog (the closest one), then two shots at the female dog (the second worst threat). The male dog was still coming at me and I fired two more shots. At this point, the female had to have turned to run and I missed the male and shot the female in the rear.

-Robert

SquirrelNuts
August 27, 2005, 07:42 AM
I do not live within any city limits myself. I have a city mailing address, but I actually live in an unincorporated part of my county. I called 911 four minutes after the incident and reported it, they did not seem to care about the gun fire, just like the last time since it involved a dog. They turned it over to animal control.

-Robert

Nathaniel Firethorn
August 27, 2005, 08:19 AM
If the prosecutor is good, he'll walk you through your story several times before the trial. This is to solidify it in your memory. You can help by writing down a full account of all the details you remember. (This won't be evidence, but is just a memory aid for you.)

Sounds like you can expect the dog owner to lawyer up once the criminal trial is over. But don't be scared; if he loses the criminal trial, his chances of winning a suit are about as much as the chances of ice fishing in hell.

- pd

dfaugh
August 27, 2005, 10:32 AM
years ago, when I was in the security business, and have testified (usually for the defense) on dog bite cases for several years.... The advice I was always given was to give give clear, concise and SHORT answers... If "yes' or "no" will answer the question, that's enough... If it requires more, give only enough information to answer the question...DO NOT try to elaborate on your answers...Any additional information just gives the other side something to work with. There's a "rule of law" involved here, in that once a subject has been broached (even if not real relevant), it can now becomea part of any questioning. Although, most good judges won't let things stray too far afield.

For example:

In your situation, if asked why you had a loaded shotgun handy, my reply would be "For just such a situation as this."

HankB
August 27, 2005, 11:47 AM
The advice I was always given was to give clear, concise and SHORT answers... If "yes' or "no" will answer the question, that's enough... +1 on that.

I'm not a lawyer, but one once told me that you should truthfully answer the question asked, and no more. For example,if asked, "Do you know what time it is?" a simple "Yes" or "No" will do. You only tell the person asking you the time if he asks "What time is it?"

Tory
August 27, 2005, 11:54 AM
"If the defendants can lose money or freedom, it is a criminal trial."

Really? How then, pray tell, do you explain the thousands of CIVIL suits brought each year demanding money damages from the defendants? :scrutiny:

Trolling anonymous internet forums in search of competent legal advice is absurd. What you often get is drivel such as the above assertion.

Get a lawyer.

Fast.

XLMiguel
August 27, 2005, 12:30 PM
Get a lawyer.
+1
And also get serious about suing the owner for everything the lawyer can think of, starting with assault, failure to control dangerous animals, neglience, yada, yadda. The best defense is a good offense :fire:

OT, if there was real justice in the world, the irresponsible owner would have been shot instead of the dog :evil:

Pilgrim
August 27, 2005, 12:30 PM
Really? How then, pray tell, do you explain the thousands of CIVIL suits brought each year demanding money damages from the defendants?

I was clarifying for SquirrelNuts that violation of city or county ordinances can be crimes.

Not a direct quote, but close enough from the CA Penal Code. I expect if you go to Black's Legal Dictionary you will find a similar definition of a crime:

A crime or public offense is an act committed or omitted in violation of an act prohibiting or commanding it, and upon conviction results in one or more of the following punishments:

1.) Death,
2.) Imprisonment,
3.) Fine,
4.) Removal from public office,
5.) Disqualification from holding any office of public trust or confidence.

If you lose money in a civil trial, it is because you were ordered to pay damages. If you lose money in a criminal trial, it is because you were fined in accordance with a criminal statute.

Fines are paid to the state. Civil damages are paid by the judgment debtor to the judgment creditor.

Failure to pay civil damages will not result in jail time. Failure to pay a fine is often another crime in itself.

Pilgrim

NeveraVictimAgain
August 27, 2005, 12:53 PM
Robert-

Please let us know how this turns out.

PAC 762
August 28, 2005, 06:22 PM
You are a witness for the prosecutor, so the prosecuter should prep you before tral and tell you what to expect/how to anser.

SquirrelNuts
August 28, 2005, 09:42 PM
It gets even better...

I did a search under the superior court website for my county...he has the pit bulls b/c FELONS cannot own guns.

He has a felony drug conviction and his wife had to take out a restraining order against him two years ago, which reinstated his probation. I bet he is on probation right the minute.

-Robert

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