Justice For All - September 2012
This twenty-first edition of Justice For All is about an important element of the Iowa criminal justice system, the “Minutes of Testimony”.
The Minutes of Testimony, which are also referred to as the “Minutes of Evidence”, is a notice in writing prepared by the prosecutor and filed along with the Indictment or charging document. The Minutes state the name and occupation of each of the State’s witnesses and a full and fair statement of the witness’s expected testimony. The basis for the Minutes is often police reports which summarize the events that led law enforcement to charge this particular defendant with a crime. A judge must review the Minutes of Testimony and make a finding that, if unexplained, the evidence contained in the Minutes would warrant a conviction by the trial jury for the crime or crimes charged in the Indictment. Once that finding has been made the Minutes are filed with the Clerk of Court and placed in a sealed envelope because they are not available to the general public. The defendant is sent a copy of the Minutes by mail at this time.
The Minutes of Testimony is perhaps the most important document a defendant is provided in the pretrial discovery process because the Minutes are a preview of how the case against them would proceed. Unlike the legal dramas on television and in the movies, there are no surprises at trial, at least not with respect to the evidence the State plans to offer against the defendant. The surprises at trial, if any, would typically come during the defendant’s turn to present evidence.
Defendants have no duty to prosecutors to make disclosures similar to those found in the Minutes of Testimony. A defendant may invoke his or her right to silence throughout the entire process and choose not to testify or choose to testify but not tell the prosecutor in advance what their version of the events is going to be. Defendants also need not disclose even the identity of their witnesses, much less a summary of their expected testimony. The only exception to this rule comes when the defendant decides to take depositions of the State’s witnesses before the trial in which case the defendant must disclose only the names of any potential witnesses.
The requirement for prosecutors to “lay all their cards on the table” so to speak without a reciprocal requirement for defendants to do the same can make securing a guilty verdict more challenging, however, the Minutes of Testimony are nonetheless supported by Iowa prosecutors as a key component for achieving justice for all in each case.
Last Updated on Friday, 09 November 2012 08:08