I was in Great Falls, Montana at the Malmstrom Air Force Base for a week in November working on a Court Martial case. It was my second military case, and I thought I’d share a little about the experience here.
Military courts are different than my experience with other courts, in virtually all ways.
To begin, many of the experts attend the entire trial, from motions, to jury selection, through the trial, and even sentencing (if the trial goes to sentencing). There are multiple reasons for this, but one part of it is that the various experts will have the opportunity to collaborate with each other. In this case, I was there to analyze several photographs and testify regarding my findings. A computer forensics expert was there to analyze cell phones, extract photos and text messages, and testify to his findings. A physician, psychiatrist, and a DNA expert were also part of the defense experts in this case. During the course of my analysis, it was important that I consult with the computer forensics expert and the physician as I conducted my analysis – the three of us were able to help each other regarding the analysis of the photographs and in understanding the original source of them.
Another aspect is that by watching the entire trial, we are able to get more information about the evidence we are there to analyze. For instance, the physician testifying for the government presented her interpretation of the photographs that I was there to analyze. By seeing her testimony, I was able to see, first-hand, whether she properly interpreted the photographs, and if the images published to the jury were fair and accurate representations. If not, then I would be prepared to explain those aspects of the images and clarify those issues.
Another difference in a military trial has to do with the court hours. In this case, the experts all arrived on Saturday and Sunday before the trial. We met on Sunday and worked together into the night. Then, the court ran from 8:00 am to after 7:00 pm on several days to keep things moving, with attorneys and experts meeting after court as well. At the end of the day Friday, closing arguments hadn’t yet been made, so court went back in session on Saturday for closing arguments, jury instructions, and to begin deliberations. Then, the sentencing hearing is held immediately afterwards, and the jury deliberated on sentencing on Sunday. Military courts move along, and not much interrupts them!
Having worked on cases in several state courts, federal court, and military courts, I find that there are new and interesting things to learn in each case. Although I wouldn’t recommend that all experts always watch entire trials, I think that more cases can benefit from more collaboration among all of the experts. The information that is discussed among the experts can be very important in fully understanding the evidence that is being analyzed and presented.