Don’t Go to Trial Empty Handed

If you frequently travel for business, you know the terrible feeling of arriving at your destination only to realize that you’ve left your toothbrush or razor at home. That’s why people who regularly travel on little (or no) notice understand the importance of keeping a “travel kit” packed and ready to go. In case you’ve never heard of a travel kit before, it’s a bag packed with all of the essential items you would need for a short business trip.

Your travel kit is probably similar to mine:

  • Shampoo
  • Deodorant
  • Toothpaste
  • Razor
  • Shaving cream
  • Fake ID’s, passports and/or visas issued under at least (3) different aliases
  • $50,000 cash (typically in U.S. or Canadian dollars, Japanese yen, European euros, Russian rubles, and Swiss francs)
  • (2) “clean” pre-paid cell phones (and chargers)
  • Safe deposit box keys
  • Access codes to safe houses
  • Swiss bank account access codes
  • Laminated list of non-extradition countries
  • Hair dye and fake moustache
  • (2) pair black socks
  • Q-Tips
  • Toothbrush
  • Etc.

Having a well-stocked travel kit like this can be a real lifesaver. It not only simplifies your packing, but it also sets your mind at ease because you know that you can head out the door without worrying that you’ve forgotten an essential item.

Far more important than your travel kit, however, is your “trial kit.” A trial kit contains all the essential items you’ll need during trial. The items in your trial kit will vary depending on what types of cases you normally try, but here are a few recommendations to help get you started:

  • Measuring tape. Distances are often an essential element of a case. (“How close were the cars?” “How far away was the witness?” “How tall was the attacker?”) If you have a measuring tape with you, you can put those distances “on the record.”
  • Stopwatch. Another common issue is time. (“You said the light just turned red. How much time passed before the defendant ran the light and darted into the intersection?”) Using a stopwatch can prevent witnesses from haphazardly guessing at the passage of time and lock them into definite time frames.
  • Magic markers. Almost every courtroom has an easel and a flip chart, but surprisingly few of them actually have magic markers. For some reason, they just seem to vanish. Keeping a supply of magic markers in multiple colors (at a minimum: red, black, and blue) will let you summarize points for the jury or allow witnesses to clarify something by drawing or diagramming it.
  • Highlighters. Want to draw a witness’s attention to a specific section of a transcript or written statement? Highlighting the relevant section makes it much easier to limit their focus or show them which portion they should read aloud.
  • A/V cords and power cords. The world’s best computer simulation is useless if you can’t show it to the jurors. Make sure you’ve got the right cables to connect your computer to the court’s projection system and an extension cord in case the power outlets are too far from your equipment.
  • Law books. It’s almost a guarantee: During the trial, someone will have a question about jury instructions, rules of procedure, or an evidentiary issue. Luckily, you’ll have the answers handy because you’ll pack copies of the rules of court and the evidence code in your trial kit.
  • Sustenance. Trials can take a lot out of you. Pack a few bottles of water to keep your throat clear and some energy bars to maintain your energy throughout the day.
  • Cash. (No, it’s not for bribing jurors or judges!) Keep $10 worth of quarters in your trial kit. You’ll be surprised at how often you need it to feed a parking meter, let someone use a pay phone, or to buy your “express lunch” of Diet Dr Pepper and pretzels at the vending machines.
  • Aspirin. If you have it, you won’t need it. But if you don’t have it, you’ll wish you did!
  • Tissues. Do your cases deal with emotional issues? Be prepared to let witnesses wipe away their tears on something besides their shirt sleeves.
  • Pointers. Normally, when you ask witnesses to identify a specific section of a map or diagram, they will reach across the exhibit and point with their fingers or with a pen, completely blocking the jury’s view of the exhibit. To avoid this problem, keep a laser pointer and an expandable pointer in your kit.

Obviously, this list only scratches the surface of what you’ll actually bring to trial, but at least it will get you thinking about the essential items you should pack. Don’t make the mistake of waiting until the eve of trial to start packing your trial kit. The closer you get to trial, the more cluttered your mind will become with last-minute issues and problems. Just like packing for a trip, if you wait until the night before, you’ll probably forget an essential item. Instead, prepare your trial kit now, while your mind is calm, and you can be guaranteed that you’ll have everything you need when you get to court.

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