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What's the difference between witness coaching and preparation?

Testifying in a criminal case is a very serious responsibility for anyone in the position to do so. Whether that person is a witness for the prosecution or for the defense, his or her statements have the power to make a very significant impact on the outcome of the case.

Because of this, proper procedures must be followed when it comes to identifying, preparing and questioning witnesses. For example, in cases involving sexual assault allegations, there may be concerns about witness coaching that call the legitimacy of a witness' statements into question.

It is important to note that there is a very big difference between witness coaching and witness preparation; however, the line between these two tactics can be incredibly thin and blurry.

As described in this article from the American Bar Association, witness preparation is a valuable tool that can help witnesses understand the importance of truthful statements and what to expect from the other lawyers and the judge. Preparation can also involve the discussion of possible cross-examination questions and documents that may be introduced.

Witness coaching, on the other hand, can be unethical. Improper coaching can involve things like encouraging a witness to make a false statement, misrepresent statistical evidence or leave out critical details. Sometimes these efforts are fairly obvious; other times it can be incredibly complicated to determine if and how a witness has been coached.

However, an experienced criminal attorney will know what to look for with respect to signs that a person's testimony has been compromised or unfairly impacted by someone like a parent, a spouse or even legal counsel. If this is the case, it can be possible to have the witness -- and anything he or she has or might have said -- dismissed.

Witness coaching can be a very real concern in cases involving young children and sexual assault allegations, as children in particular can be very vulnerable to coaching from the adults around them. If you have been wrongly accused of sexual abuse or misconduct, scrutinizing witness preparation and questioning tactics can be a critical element in your defense.

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