"As a general rule, the most successful man in life is the man who has the best information".
Benjamin Desraeli 

See Also: Records

Keep a diary of everything you can remember, all conversations, with lawyers, doctors, and so on. Keep the diary up to date as soon as you get time to record the information. Don't trust your memory, it may fail you since you are under a great deal of stress. Keep a log of items you received from various sources, lawyers, etc. You may wish to note the amounts of postage and numbers of pages for items you requests or items sent from your lawyer's offices.

Personal Injury information from NOLO - definitions of legal terms and more.

Obtain copies of the police reports of the crash. Make sure you have copies from all of the witnesses. You might want to check back later to see if anything additional has been added. Obtain the reports of all of the officers, city engineers, traffic control persons who may have participated in the investigation. In some states as part of the collision investigation, a report on the contents of the vehicles should be included. If this is not included, there may be notes about the contents in the police reports. Along with the police reports there should be photos of the crash aftermath. Look carefully at the photos. In the police photo, in Juli's case, the red and yellow traffic lights were captured quite distinctly.

Put all of the police reports together with those of the witnesses. For crash reconstruction reports, an expert may be called in by the police department or other party involved. Obtain copies of this report. The Northwestern University's Traffic Institute has computed speeds per second for vehicles traveling at a certain miles per hour. Crash investigations should take into account the weight of the vehicle and the weight of the occupants, crash angles, impact depth, speed, pavement drag, and more.
Note: The expert hired by the police department relied on the statement of the defendant to obtain the range of numbers given. He computed them as a ratio: if defendant was going 36 mph then Juli was going 48 mph; if defendant was going 45 mph Juli was going 63 mph; the fallacy being, he never computed a range if the defendant was going 50 mph or faster. The reconstructionist never talked with the other witnesses at the scene or read their police reports. The four witnesses at the scene reported that they believed defendant was exceeding the posted speed limit. This "expert witness" stated there was no way to tell if vehicle lights had been on. Supposedly the "expert witness" had graduated from the Traffic Institute at Northwestern. He should return for a refresher course and keep awake this next time. Visit the Traffic Institute's Web site for more information on how to conduct a crash investigation.

Also, the witness, Amy Abels stated that Juli was behind her and kept a constant speed.

Create a timeline of who did what when and where. This will be helpful as the defense lawyer will seem to be fixated on times. Lawyers are not required to tell the truth in court. If another lawyer knows there is a misstatement, he/she may object, claiming a "misstatement of the facts." It is the duty of the members of the jury to be the finders of fact, or the judge, if it is a nonjury trial. Lawyers may deliberately misstate information on times, conditions, etc. to confuse the issues.

Look for inconsistencies in the statements of any of the witnesses compared with the statements of the defendant. In my own case, the defendant offered ten different versions of what he saw or was doing at the time of the collision:
Defendant Rokes told many different stories about the lights and the crash to eight different people.
(1) 10-4/5-96 11:05 p.m. Officer Michael at scene, Rokes stated "I didn't see flashing red light because I was consoling my wife";
(2) 10/5/96 1:00 am to Officers Wilson and Venenga "I thought I had a green light";
(3) 10/5/96 8-9:00 am told Scott Braun, "I thought I had a green light."
(4) 10/5/96 at between 10:00 am and 11:00 am to Tracey Braun thought he had a "blinking or flashing light".
10/5/96 7:54 p.m. CFPD in a signed police report his statement was "saw east west traffic light was green, thought I had sufficient time to proceed, said I was going 40-45 mph,
(6) Told hospital nurse, Martha Lamb he was going 50 mph.
(7) 5/21/1997 "didn't see the light because I was turned and didn't see the road" (criminal trial);
(8) 5/21/97 "didn't know--didn't see the light" (criminal trial)
11/10/98 deposition "saw the red light go off and did not see the green light. Didn't see a green light. Was driving near the speed limit." There is a difference between 40 and 45 and 50. However, all are at or near the speed limit, especially in crash reconstruction.
(10) 4/20/99 "green light a typo on Officer Wilson's CF police department report. It should have been a 'red' light." My favorite is the typo.
Note: The defendant was driving a sports utility vehicle in which the driver sits up about 10-12 inches higher than a car--he had the best view and it was unobstructed.

In another case, the defendant said he went through a red light because he was putting a cassette tape in the tape deck in his vehicle. Upon further examination, there was no tape deck in his vehicle.

Take photos of the vehicles involved.

Take photos of the intersection or crash site. Use a 35 mm camera with a ground glass lens, or borrow or rent one. Consider using a panoramic camera. It uses 35 mm film which is processed so that the top and bottom of the photo are cut off and the view is elongated to give the panoramic effect. These cameras are available at camera and discount stores for $8-15.00. A digital camera, used with a computer, may not give the depth of field or detail needed for more distant photographic perspectives. A digital camera's depth of field (the ability to keep an object in focus in relation to its background) is approximately 1/20 that of a 35 mm camera with a ground glass lens. Digitals are excellent for quick photos.

In December of 1999, the local newspaper printed an article concerning the Iowa Department of Transportation's 100 most dangerous intersections. The Greenhill and Highway 58 intersection was ranked 75th with 34 crashes in five years. and a 1.64 accident rate. The State Department of Transportation studies crashes, keeping statistic. The IDOT can tell one how many crashes occur by the hour of the day, day of the week, and month of the year, as well as information on drug and alcohol use.

Obtain a copy of the driver's instruction manual for your states. Many of them are now online. Check out what it says the law is about running traffic lights, stop signs, and drunk driving.

If a videotape DVD is made of the intersection:

  • Make sure that as many of the same conditions are met as possible, otherwise, the tape or DVD is useless;
  • Use the same types of vehicles, the same time of day or night, same day of the week, and so on;
  • Be sure to use a new video tape or DVD is of a professional quality, not the local WalMart brand, but one such as Kodak, Maxel, 3M, or Sony. Have an extra new or unused tape as back up;
  • Use equipment that has been maintained to ensure the best quality video signal to be recorded onto the tape, i. e. the record/playback heads should be cleaned after so many uses;
  • The the record/playback heads of the VCR/DVDR should also be adequately maintained to ensure the best possible image on playback. The video tape should be stored away from heat, light, moisture, and magnetic fields near televisions, computers, etc.;
  • To keep video tape/DVDpladyer in good playback condition, an expert recommends playing or fast forwarding and rewinding of the tape at least once a year to prevent windowing or other problems;
  • The videotape or DVD presented in court should be the original, if possible. Newer video recording equipment uses a video cartridge which may necessitate dubbing the video signal onto a video cassette tape for playback to a monitor. If you have an adaptation device that fits into the video cassette tape slot in the VCR, use the original for playback. Make a copy of the original. If dubbed, be aware that you are loosing some of the image quality, to dropout, and succeeding generations will have potentially more dropout (the image is less sharp and becomes fuzzier).
  • Copies should be made from the original or as close to the original as possible;
  • Questions about how the video tape or DVD were produced and stored need to be addressed.
  • Remember, the lawyers aren't obligated to tell the truth, especially for the defendant, but to obfuscate the truth by: 1) Nancy Grace's SODDI defense--Some Other Dude Did It; 2) cast doubt on the forensic evidence (blame the police and technicians for sloppy work; 3) throw up as much doubt and see what sticks for the jury.

Watch criminal trials on formerly Court TV now Learn how things are done, then you won't be so surprised when it comes time for the criminal defense to try their case and they start out by making a motion for dismissal or acquittal stating lack of evidence or some such comment. WESTLAW offers access to full transcripts of such well known cases as those of Susan Smith, O. J. Simpson, and the Menendez brothers trials plus others. Court TV Casefiles.


updated 12/16/16