Judge Interrupts Assault Case after Cross-Examination Gets Heated, Instructs Defense Attorney How to Handle Distressed Witness

By Michael Apfel

MODESTO, CA – In a Stanislaus County Superior Court preliminary examination last week involving an alleged knife attack, Judge Rubén Villalobos interrupted the defense attorney during a tense cross-examination of a key eyewitness.

Defense counsel pressed the witness about her uncertainty about how many times the accused allegedly stabbed the victim, what hand the accused held the knife in and whether or not the accused even did the stabbing.

The attorney broke down the witness’s testimony bit-by-bit as she progressively became more distressed, giving unresponsive answers and getting on the attorney’s nerves.

“Hold on, time out. Time out. Time out means time out,” Judge Villalobos said, halting defense counsel’s line of questioning. “I want you to do your best to (let the witness) answer the question that is being asked, and instead of stopping her when you believe she is not doing that, say ‘Objection, nonresponsive,’ and I will rule.”

After this, defense counsel resumed his examination, again pressing the witness about what she told an officer. The witness said she could not remember what she told the officer, exclaiming that it was difficult for her to break down all of the details of the night in question because the situation was chaotic and happened almost a month prior to the examination.

Ultimately, she could not testify as to what she told the officer, and the defense continued to press her on her recollection of the events.

The defense attorney then asked the witness what hand she saw the accused allegedly hold the knife in, and, again, she was not sure, making a reference to the fact that she did not notice the accused using his left hand.

“You could just, you could just answer,” the accused’s attorney said, interrupting the witness’s unresponsive answer and prompting the judge to interject.

Judge Villalobos was quick to express his displeasure with how defense counsel was controlling the witness.

“I’m going to instruct you directly,” said Judge Villalobos. “You don’t tell the witness what to do. I said if she’s being nonresponsive, you say, ‘Objection nonresponsive,’ and I deal with that. Thank you, next question.”

Cross-examination resumed, and the eyewitness became choked as she continued to recount what she remembered.

“He had the knife held like what you’d see in a horror film,” remarked the witness.

Following this examination, the deputy district attorney had no further questions for redirect examination, and the witness was excused, Judge Villalobos thanking her for her testimony.

In spite of the defense’s efforts to discredit the witness, the court held there was sufficient evidence of the stabbing. A trial setting is scheduled later this month.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The names of the defense attorney and accused were unavailable to news media.

About The Author

Michael Apfel is a second year at USC majoring in Legal Studies and minoring in Sports Media Industries. He plans on law school after his undergraduate studies looking to work in social justice.

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