Aggressive Cross-Examination in the Jodi Arias Trial: Effective?
For the last several weeks, my evenings have been largely occupied with watching the Jodi Arias murder trial. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the case, the Arizona trial involves the brutal killing of a young man, Travis Alexander, in 2008. His former girlfriend, Jodi Arias, is charged with first degree murder and potentially faces the death penalty.
Ms. Arias is, to say the least, a complicated defendant: she first completely denied killing Mr. Alexander, then appeared on a nationally-televised “48 Hours Mystery” denying her involvement, but now admits to the killing as an act of self-defense. The case has drawn massive media attention, and is written about on sites like “Calls For Justice” and “Jodi Arias is Innocent”.
The trial has been going on for weeks, but just recently the defendant herself took the stand. As this is written, the State is in the early stages of cross-examining her. This cross-examination has been long-awaited, given the defendant’s admitted history of inventing her own facts.
The lead prosecutor, Juan Martinez, has been described as smart, experienced and successful. In this case he’s demonstrated a very distinctive style, moving around a lot, often changing the tone of his voice, getting aggressive, confrontational and, at times, visibly annoyed. It’s a style that’s easy to understand given the heinous nature of the crime, the history of deception and the fact that Ms. Arias is not exactly cooperative on the stand. From a trial-watching persepectve, the prosecutor’s approach is great to watch.
That said, it seems risky to come close to “bullying” a defendant whose primary defense is that she was a victim of abuse. My trial lawyer friends tell me that getting angry, using a lot of categorical “yes or no” questions, and rapid-fire questioning can all be very tough to successfully execute without drawing disfavor from the jury. We can’t see the Arias jury, but I’m not sure we should assume that they are necessarily reacting favorably to just because the prosecutor isn’t letting up.
Trial lawyers: Do you find it effective to aggressively “go after” a defendant in jury trials?
Have you found any “best practices” to follow? Is it completely variable based on the actual composition of each individual jury?
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