Saturday, March 12, 2011
IMPORTANCE OF THE SCENE VISIT
Garage Tavern – Scene of the Shooting
To understand a case requires a sense of the people and the place involved. It is critical to go to the scene at the earliest opportunity. You can’t truly understand the place unless you have been there. The scene could be an intersection in a negligence collision case, a nursing home in an elder abuse case or the bar in a case involving a shooting in a tavern on a Saturday night. Witness statements, pictures and diagrams are poor substitutes for being there. This is not a new subject here; it is worth repeating.
The case that my law students work on for both the Comprehensive Pretrial and Trial courses involves a Saturday night shooting in a bar which results in a criminal homicide prosecution and a civil tavern liability civil suit (full case files for these cases are contained in Pretrial Advocacy and Trial Advocacy Assignments and Case Files texts).
Because the bar is the scene of the shooting, my Seattle University law students (pictured above) and I, as part of the strenuous curriculum, visit the Garage Tavern where the shooting took place. I usually play the role of the lead detective and the students in the role of counsel question me about the location and the people involved. To prepare for the class the students watch a video tour of the tavern on a DVD that comes with their text (you can view part of the video on the website for the book and DVD here). The students note that the differences from even what they saw in the video of the scene, including the ambient noise and the low lighting when they are there in person. Factors which would interfere with a witness’s ability to see and hear.
I stress the importance of going to the scene as soon as possible not only so that they, as counsel, will have a grasp of the location when they talk to witnesses but also because the scene may change from the night of the shooting or whatever the incident might be in their cases. How has a scene visit worked to your advantage?
We discuss the value of having someone who was involved in the incident present because they can point out where people and things were when the shooting took place. Also, we talk about having a camera to take photos of the scene before something is changed if this has not already been done.
The experience of going to the Garage Tavern will hopefully stick in the students’ minds the vital value of visiting the scene, doing it as soon as possible and how to approach the scene visit. Beyond that, it is a great opportunity to spend time getting to know your students in a non-school setting. Do you do this as part of your pretrial advocacy course?
Going to the scene is an important aspect of pretrial preparation and case development. To purchase or get an examination copy of Pretrial Advocacy click here.