Many have heard the term “trial by ambush.” It refers to surprises that occur in a trial and is generally considered an unfair tactic that interferes with the search for truth. Not commonly known, however, is that in a federal criminal case, when personal liberty is at stake, the defendant faces “trial by ambush” that is built into the Rules of Criminal Procedure.
Most people believe that in a lawsuit, both sides disclose their witnesses and that prior to trial, the witnesses will be deposed to learn what will be related to the jury. This happens in civil and criminal cases in Florida state courts and in a federal civil case.
In a federal criminal case, however, when a defendant faces imprisonment, the rules are different. Federal Rules do not require the government to identify its witnesses (except expert witnesses), nor do the rules allow depositions (there are very limited exceptions, such as a terminally ill witness).
The fundamental fairness of our federal courts is subject to criticism when a person facing imprisonment in a criminal case does not have the rights given to those fighting over money in a civil case.
The purpose of our criminal justice system and the constitutional right to trial by jury is to preserve the liberty of individuals who may be wrongfully accused through a fair trial. It is important that a person who is fighting for his liberty against the federal government be given the same procedural safeguards as given to those in civil cases.
Law Offices of Mark L. Horwitz, P.A.
17 East Pine Street
Orlando, FL 32801
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