On Trial Transcripts: Only the Stenographer Knows for Sure

by Jamison Koehler on January 25, 2012


Reviewing the transcript from a hearing or trial you have done can sometimes be a humbling experience. What you may have remembered as a dramatic moment at trial can come across as flat on the printed page, and a good stenographer will throw in every “er,” “um” and “okay” to remind you that you may not be quite the eloquent trial attorney you thought you were.  Sometimes you stumble over a question or miss an area for possible inquiry. And then there are the moments – however brief — in which you seem to be doing everything right.

Here is a brief excerpt from a jury trial I did recently in Virginia.  My client was charged, among other things, with being a felon in possession of a firearm. Tucked away within the 300-page transcript is this gem of a redirect to “rehabilitate” my client after the government impeached his testimony on cross-examination. As for the times during the trial in which I was less than perfect, well, I’ll allow them to remain buried within the transcript, a secret known only to the stenographer and me.

Q:            Mr. Norfleet.

A:            Yes.

Q:            Did you ever do a quick draw with the weapon in the mirror?

A:            No.

Q:            Did you ever say you did a quick draw with the weapon in the mirror?

A:            No.

Q:            And who said that you did?

A:            My previous lawyer.

Q:            At the time of previous testimony, did anyone ever ask you what you meant by toying with the weapon?

A:            No.

Q:            Now, when you sold the car, this was a person-to-person transaction?

A:            Yes.

Q:            So there was no business involved?

A:            No.

Q:            Did you keep any records of that?

A:            No, I didn’t.  I didn’t feel no need to.

Q:            When you found out that the firearm was in your car, why didn’t you turn around and drive back to Melissa’s house so that she could take the firearm out of your car?

A:            I just wasn’t about to drive around with a gun, you know.  I wasn’t even thinking about “oh, I’m a convicted felon.”  All I’m thinking a gun – a gun in my car, you know.  I wasn’t going to do it.

Q:            Why didn’t you leave the firearm in the car and call the police?

A:            I am a convicted felon.

Q:            Why didn’t you just leave it in the car for the guy you sold it to to make it his problem?

A:            That just sounds crazy.

Q:            Again, what were you thinking when you brought the firearm into your house?

A:            Take it, hurry up, put it away somewhere, need to hurry up and run down to get to the Croppers before they closed.  That was like the only thing that was really on my mind at the time.

Q:            Thank you.  I have no further questions.

4 Comments on “On Trial Transcripts: Only the Stenographer Knows for Sure

  1. Two Questions:

    (1) In your client’s last answer what are “Croppers?”

    (2) What was the final outcome in this case?

    Thank you for your time in advance.

  2. The jury acquitted my client of the lead charge carrying a mandatory minimum 5-year sentence that could not be suspended. It convicted him of lesser charges and sentenced him to 12 months. The judge reduced this to time served and released him.

    My client was trying to sell the car on the day the search warrant was executed. Croppers was a towing company that held title to the car.

  3. Hey Jamison,
    Very interesting to read this post, but I guess I don’t quite understand why you think you “did everything right” here. Are you saying that this sequence was important in making the error that you client committed seem to be just a run-of-the-mill human mistake, which helped him with the jury?

  4. Doing everything right, I guess, is in the eye of the beholder. In this case, I thought I accomplished two things.

    Using a transcript from an earlier trial, the prosecutor had made a big deal about how my client had “toyed” with the gun, even doing “quick draws” in the mirror, to undercut our argument that, in bringing the firearm into the the house, my client was doing the most responsible thing he could. First, I think I was able to debunk that attack by pointing out how it was my client’s previous lawyer who used the language of “doing a quick draw in the mirror,” not my client.

    Second, knowing that the jurors were probably asking themselves this question, I thought I got my client to provide believable reasons for why he thought it was necessary to bring the firearm into his house. He didn’t want to drive back to his girlfriend’s house to have her take her gun out of the car because, as a convicted felon (and also young black male), he didn’t want to be driving around with a firearm in his car. And he didn’t call the police to have them take the firearm out of the car because, again, he was a convicted felon who was also a young black male.

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