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The Prosecution rests its case

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The above statement is a powerful statement with significant consequences. It comes from the prosecutor in criminal cases, and it could lead to the end of the case. The word “rest” is an ordinary English word, but it has significant meaning in legal matters. In its ordinary form one may speak about taking a rest after a tiresome journey, or one may rest one’s head on a pillow. In legal proceedings, the prosecutor uses it to indicate that he has completed his task in a criminal case. It means that he has put forth sufficient evidence in a criminal case to convict the defendant/accused and he has no more witnesses to present and no more evidence to give.

Examination-in-chief

Let us go back to events prior to these decisive words. The defendant is in the dock and is being tried for a crime that he has been charged. The prosecutor calls witnesses one by one to testify and he obtains the evidence by posing questions to them. These questions are asked against the background of other statements made in a deposition prior to the trial. The witness examination by the prosecutor is known as the examination-in-chief. Physical evidence, as well, could be introduced through the witnesses during the examination-in-chief. These are known as exhibits. After the examination-in-chief the defense questions or cross-examines the witness.

Reasonable doubts

The duty of the prosecutor is to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused committed the crime, because a person is presumed to be innocent until proven guilty. This is the usual burden of proof in a criminal matter.

A crucial decisio
n

If the prosecutor has no more evidence to offer, he makes the crucial decision to inform the court that he has completed his task. He does this by resting his case. At this juncture the defense could use the opportunity to ask the court to dismiss the charges against the defendant because the evidence presented did not prove the guilt of the accused beyond a reasonable doubt.

The defense takes the stand

If the judge does not dismiss the matter then the defense must try to convince the jury that the accused is not guilty of the crime charged. The defense does this by bringing witnesses to refute the prosecution evidence. The defendant himself could choose to take the stand to present evidence in his defense. However, in many cases a defendant, especially in a murder case, chooses not to take the stand for fear of intense cross-examination by the prosecutor. The defense does not have the burden to prove the case (except for insanity), but only to punch holes in the prosecution’s case, so as to put sufficient doubts in the minds of the jurors. A panel of jurors will determine if the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, or not guilty. The jurors must make their decision based on the evidence in court and not on what was heard from persons outside the court or from the media. The judge would remind the jury about this. For a murder case the decision must be unanimous, that is, all the jurors must agree or disagree to the decision. The jury must return its verdict to a judge in open court and the court will deliver a judgment. The judgment is the final order in the case. A guilty defendant could seek to appeal his conviction.

Ada Johnson is a solicitor and barrister-at-law. E-mail address is: exploringthelaw@yahoo.com

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