My question was inspired by this question.

Suppose I see some "suspicious" activity on a New York City subway. I film this activity and report it to the police. The police decide on the basis of the film that someone was committing a robbery. They identify and arrest a suspect, identify and present a victim, etc.

I am introduced in court as the person who took the film. I take the stand and testify that I did so. I then disclaim knowledge of any actual crime, and claim only that the activity looked "suspicious," and I took it and handed the film to the police.

I would expect the defense to cross examine me about the film. "Where did you take this film? When did you take this film? At what angles/lighting, etc. did you take this film? How long have you had the camera? How much experience have you had operating this or similar cameras? How did you operate this camera?" etc.

But suppose the defense goes into other areas: "Do you feel that a crime has been committed? Why did you go to the police? Do you know if the defendant is the same person as in the film? How about the victim? (I did not introduce any of these topics on direct examination.")

What then happens if I say, "I don't know whether a crime has been committed? or "I don't know whether the defendant is the same person as in the film?." etc. and, "all I can say is that I took this film and the film speaks for itself." and "After receiving the film, the police acted independently of me, because I told them nothing else."

Is the defense allowed to question me on those grounds? Will my answers stand up if they are true?

1 Answer 1


The situation you describe is extremely unlikely

First, you will have been required to give a statement to the police who would have asked you most or all of the questions that you suggest before anyone gets anywhere near a courtroom and likely before any arrest has been made.

That statement will be part of your evidence in chief. As in "Is this your statement?" "Yes". "Is this your video recording?" "Yes". After that, your evidence in chief is pretty much done.

A witness of fact (rules for expert witnesses are different) can only testify as to what they personally sensed and what their state of mind was. So questions about what you saw, heard, tasted etc. are all perfectly legitimate as are questions about what you thought or felt. You are required to answer these questions honestly - if that means "I don't know" then say "I don't know".

All of the hypothetical questions look fine but as I said, they will all have answers in your police statement. The only one that's off-limits is ""Do you feel that a crime has been committed?" - nobody knows if a crime has been committed; that's why we're having a trial.

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