This week’s guest contributor is Louis C. Amen, Det., NYPD (Ret.) . (Detective Amen spent the majority of his NYPD career with the highly regarded Accident Investigation Squad [AIS], Highway 3. AIS is called onto an MVA site when there are participants in the vehicular event that are seriously injured and likely to die or fatalities are involved.)
Evaluating Motor Vehicle Accident Witnesses (for depositions/trial) :
When interviewing a witness to an MVA for the purpose of assessing the strength and depth of her recall, an investigator is also evaluating her ability to “present well” under oath, whether at an EBT (Examination Before Trial) or the actual trial itself. We’re taking stock of the witness’ ability to articulate well, be concise but thorough and firm in her testimony and whether she can remain focused under potentially grueling questioning.
Whether it’s in the relative immediate aftermath of an incident or five years later, it is important to know the following:
1. Witness’ perspective.
- Was s/he in any of the vehicles involved in the MVA?
- If not, determine exact location. (I.e., in other uninvolved vehicle in the vicinity, position in that vehicle – a driver of an SUV may have better line of sight to the incident than a rear seat passenger of a Honda Accord, or on the sidewalk or crossing a roadway…)
2. Witness relationship to any involved parties (drivers, passengers, pedestrian,cyclist).
3. Has the witness tried to steer any of the involved parties to lawyers, doctors, investigators?
4. (Ask delicately.) Was the witness under the influence (including prescription drugs)?
The most effective method of obtaining a valid and comprehensive assessment of the witness is to, throughout the interview, put yourself in her position. From a physical and psychological point of view. Re-ask the important questions in this mode. If the picture that the witness is portraying isn’t coming together for the investigator, it won’t connect for the jurors.
Louis C. Amen, Det., NYPD (Ret.)