I get my day in court - God I'm going to look stupid.

I have received a subpoena to appear as a witness for the police in a traffic matter.

Months ago I witnessed an accident where the car in front of me at a set of lights drove into the intersection and was t-boned by a bus. The driver of the car had obviously seen the lights further up the road change and just drove off although our light was still red. He didn’t try to race across the intersection, just dawdled off as though our light had changed.

Unfortunately, as if to prove the truism about the inaccuracy of eye witness testimony. I unconsciously changed a detail of the accident. I signed my statement but then hours later realised that I got this detail wrong. I was even able to work out how my memory had been fooled while I waited to make my statement

I assumed I would never hear any more about it - the intersection has a red light camera and for the car driver to have been going through a green light the bus would have been caught running the red. I guess the camera wasn’t operating (here only 1 in 4 actually has a camera in it on any given day) and I told people the story as proof of the unreliability of eye witnesses.

Now I have to appear as the prosecution’s star witness. When the defendant’s lawyer gets to work I’m going to be made to look a real dickhead. I wonder if he will try to insinuate that I was drunk (I would, in his position, at least ask was I breath tested by the police).

Ah, well you never be too humble.

If I were you, I would contact the prosecutor in advance to alert him/her to this point.

Chill. Courts are not what you see in Law and Order. Yes, let the prosecutor know you believe you made a mistake. Be as simple and clear as you can. And don’t freak out. The Defense lawyer would like to poke holes in your story. Just tell things as clearly as you can, don’t make stuff up, and admit if you don’t recall certain details. For example, if you don’t recall what model of car it was, or the name of somebody, that’s fine.

I know this wasn’t the most popular thread in history but I was finally able to contact the officer prosecuting this case and wanted to let** Northern Piper** and smiling bandit know that they were both right.

The police sergeant who is prosecuting is a charming woman who thought my story about stuffing up my statement was very funny. She said that, being forewarned, my altered recollections would, in fact, make the case easier to prove. She ended the call saying, “Thanks for calling. See you bright and early on Wednesday.” Ah, women in uniform.

So now I am kind of looking forward to the whole thing.

I expect she’s delighted that you’re concerned to tell the truth. A witness that made a mistake is quite different from a witness that weasels.

I lurked!

Gee they have a hard life. She has been on shifts (different every day) while I have been trying to ring her. After tonight she is on “special duties” until Tuesday, whatever that means. On Wednesday she is Police Prosecutor.

Thanks for sharing – looking forward to reading more about your adventures. Truly!

What was the nature of your “altered recollections”?

I witnessed an accident, happened right in front of me and the guy who caused it (by turning left when he shouldn’t have) got away. They let me give all my info on the phone. It did feel good to be part of “the process”, I hope it helped.

I was behind the guy who drove through the red light. I started to follow him and then realised the lights were red and sat at the front of the line of cars and watched the accident.

When I went to give my statement I told the cop “I was behind him at the lights…blah blah blah” but I had to wait about 15 or 20 minutes while the cops did more important stuff - check the drivers, tidy up the traffic, take photos etc, before I got to give my signed statement.

In the time I was waiting my brain worked out that:

I was at the front of my lane when the accident happened.
The car with the bus stuck in its side was way across the intersection.

Therefore the guy who was hit was in the lane next to me. Later I realised that he was in front of me, I rolled forward and stopped and the bus ploughed into him and pushed him a lane and a bit across the road.

The sergeant who is prosecuting thought it was really funny that I could work out how I had tricked myself into disremembering the event.

So the police are also prosecutors? Australia is weird.

Shows how much I know. I thought that was the norm in most places.

Yes, the police prosecute criminal matters. It’s all the more reason to do the minumum required to politely cooperate if you are arrested, but do no more. Use your right not to answer questions, etc, even if the police seem friendly and helpful. They are not on your side.

I’m not a cop hater (far from it), but facts is facts.

When I was arrested a couple of years ago, I remember being driven to the police station and reminding myself of my law student friend’s advice years before that most people who are convicted are convicted because of their own words and to say nothing. I promised myself I would say nothing. When we got there, the cops were really polite and honest-sounding (it was a relatively minor charge): “Would you like to be interviewed? It’s a chance to give your side of the story. We’ll record it to DVD and give you a copy.” Straight away, I completely forgot my friend’s words, and agreed to be interviewed. The cops have done this before and are smooth operators. The average Joe hasn’t and isn’t. Then I was able to ring a solicitor…

Solicitor: Have the cops offered an interview?
Me: Yes
Solicitor: Don’t do it!
Me: I’ve already agreed.
Solicitor: No problem. Just tell them you’ve changed your mind.

So I did. It worked.

Interesting. I’ll keep that in mind next time I’m in Australia.

Just to clarify: police prosecutors act for some offences. They tend to be relatively minor. The officers who act as prosecutors are non-lawyers. They are not the same people as the police who investigate your complaint. Other matters are referred to the Department of Public Prosecutions. They may run matters themselves or brief barristers.

If it’s a minor offence that’s being prosecuted by a police officer do you still get an actual lawyer as defence counsel?

If you want to pay for one, yes. I don’t think the State will provide you with defence counsel.

My experience in the New South Wales court system goes back to more than 30 years ago. I was booked for negligent driving, and could have just paid the fine, but wanted my day in court. There I told the magistrate that I was pleading not guilty, and the magistrate advised me to go off and consult with the chamber magistrate, (Chamber magistrates are lawyers employed by the State, who among other things will give free legal advice, and who are based in local courthouses). The chamber magistrate advised me that I really should plead guilty, after hearing my story; so I returned to court, changed my plea, offered my story as mitigating circumstances, and was duly fined.

Oh yeah? Well, what else are you “mis-remembering” smarty pants, don’t ask? Is that your real name or are you “mis-remembering” that, too?

Interesting. Just how minor are these offences? In the US a defendent is entitled to a lawyer any time there’s a even a theoretical chance he could a jail sentence whether he can afford one or not.

I suspect it might be just a fine, plus losing points on your driver’s licence. (If you lose enough points, the licence is suspended for a time).

I was called as a witness in an auto accident many, many years ago. I was a high school senior, just a week before graduation. I was behind another car stopped at a light and an impatient leadfoot came up behind us and started to pass on the right, where there was no traffic lane, intending to turn right at the light. Just as he got there, the car ahead of me turned and they collided. When the police arrived, the officers recognized me because one of them was my father. In due course I was subpoenaed because the defendant told his attorney the only witness to the accident, other than the other driver (an ancient retiree who shouldn’t have been driving in the first place) was a high school kid.

Before the case went to trial, however, I was hired by a local television station and went to work as a booth and on-air announcer. It’s important to note here that I was NOT a journalist at that time (that would come years later.) I was hired because I looked good in the TV station’s blue logo blazer and had perfect oral delivery (yeah, yeah, I’ve heard it all before.) People frequently mistook me for an “anchor man,” but in reality I was just a good-looking kid who could act grown-up when the camera was on. The real news work was done by professionals. But when I walked into the courtroom that day, the defense lawyer took one look at me and immediately asked for a recess. I later learned he said to his client something along the lines of, “Are you shitting me?! That’s no high school kid! That’s a TV news anchor!” They pleaded the case out then and there. And I was glad. I was so damn nervous I was about to puke. If asked to point out the defendant, I’d have probably confessed myself.