Witness Credibility Examples

California Evidence Code Section 780: Witness Credibility Witness Credibility

Witness credibility stands at the heart of the endeavor to decipher the truth amidst conflicting testimonies and evidence. In California, Evidence Code section 780 guides the evaluation of witness credibility, and states that a court or jury can take into consideration several things in determining the credibility of a witness.

Demeanor and Manner of Testifying

Section 780(a) allows attorneys to examine a witness’s demeanor while testifying and the manner in which they testify. For example, in an assault case where the prosecution’s key witness appears nervous and evasive, a skilled defense attorney will point out these signs of discomfort to cast doubt on the reliability of their testimony, suggesting that it might be influenced by fear, bias, or an ulterior motive.

Character of Testimony

Section 780(b) allows attorneys to question the character of a witness’s testimony. For instance, in a robbery trial, the prosecution’s star witness claimed to have seen the defendant at the scene. However, upon cross-examination, the witness is inconsistent about the details and it is revealed that the witness has several previous convictions for crimes of dishonesty, such as fraud. Highlighting these discrepancies, it can doubt about the accuracy of our client's identification.

Capacity to Perceive, Recollect, and Communicate

Section 780(c) allows an investigation into a witness’s capacity to perceive, recollect, and communicate events. For example, in a domestic violence case, a prosecution’s witness stated that they had observed the defendant commit the crime in a dark alley at nighttime. An expert can testify and establish that the witness’s ability to perceive and recollect events under such conditions was severely limited.

Opportunity to Perceive

Section 780(d) allows questioning into the witness’s opportunity to perceive. For example, in a burglary case, the prosecution relied on a witness who claimed to have seen the defendant inside the victim’s home. However, surveillance footage contradicts the witness’s statement. This can be used to show that the witness did not have a reasonable opportunity to perceive the events as they had described, undermining their credibility.

Character for Honesty or Veracity

Section 780(e) states that a witness’s character for honesty or veracity or their opposites can be used to evaluate their credibility. For instance, in a drug trafficking case, the prosecution’s key witness was a former associate of the defendant. Presenting evidence of the witness’s prior convictions for theft, a crime of dishonesty, can establish a pattern of untruthfulness.

Bias, Interest, or Other Motive

Section 780(f) allows questioning of a witness on their bias, interest, or other motive. For example, in an embezzlement case, a coworker of the defendant was the prosecution’s key witness. Eliciting testimony that the coworker had a personal vendetta against the defendant and stood to gain financially if the defendant was convicted exposes a bias, which can discredit the witness’s testimony.

Consistency in Statements

Section 780(g) allows for the examination of consistency of prior statements with current testimony. For example, in a kidnapping trial, one of the witnesses had changed their story significantly between police interviews and their testimony in court. This inconsistency can raise doubts about the witness’s credibility.

Inconsistent Statements

Section 780(h) allows for the use inconsistent statements made by a witness to challenge their credibility. For example, in a sexual assault case, the alleged victim provided conflicting accounts of the incident in different interviews. By highlighting these inconsistencies, the victim’s testimony and credibility can be scrutinized.

Existence or Nonexistence of Facts

Section 780(i) allows for challenging the existence or nonexistence of facts. For instance, in a drug possession trial, if the office’s account of the arrest is contradicted by body worn camera footage, this demonstrates the existence of facts inconsistent with the officer’s testimony, which raises questions about the officer’s credibility or whether the defendant was lawfully arrested.

Attitude Toward the Action

Section 780(j) allows a jury to consider a witness’s attitude towards the action. For example, in a stalking case, the alleged victim displayed a strong animosity towards the defendant. By showcasing the victim's hostility and apparent bias against the defendant, it can be argued that the witness’s attitude toward the action influenced their testimony, thus undermining their credibility.

Admission of Untruthfulness

Section 780(k) allows a court to consider a witness’s admission to being untruthful in the past. For example, on a fraud case, the key prosecution witness admitted to having lied in the past to advance their personal interests. This admission can significantly weaken the witness’s credibility.

If you are facing charges for a crime, it is critical that you hire an attorney that understands the nuances of witness credibility. As a former Deputy District Attorney with over 14 years of prosecutorial experience, Los Angeles criminal defense attorney Michael Kraut has extensive experience in revealing witness biases and calling into question testimony.

For more information about the criminal justice process, and to schedule your free consultation, contact Michael Kraut at the Kraut Law Group located at 6255 Sunset Boulevard, Suite 1520, Los Angeles, CA 90028. Mr. Kraut can be reached 24/7 at 888-334-6344 or 323-464-6453.

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