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updated 4/5/2004 3:45:41 PM ET 2004-04-05T19:45:41

Every time there‘s a high profile arrest and trial, the key prosecution witnesses get slimed by defense attorneys.  They’re not just portrayed as lying, but often, everything about their person is attacked,  which is almost certainly is going to make witnesses more reluctant to come forward. 

In the Scott Peterson case, defense investigators have been drudging up all sorts of dirt on Peterson‘s former girlfriend Amber Frey.  They‘ll try to introduce as much of it as possible even though a lot of what she says will probably be backed with audiotapes.  And much what they have has little to do with whether or not she is telling the truth. 

In the Martha Stewart case, former broker Douglas Faneuil was the star witness.  Rather than just challenge his story, the defense tried to tell jurors among other things about Faneuil smoking pot in Jamaica.   

In the manslaughter trial of former NBA star Jayson Williams, one of the key witnesses, Benoit Benjamin, former basketball player and friend of Williams who was in the house., was also slimed. After he described what he claims to have seen, the defense tried to describe him as bitter and broke in an angry cross-examination. 

Even Mark Fuhrman in the O.J. Simpson case, who clearly made inappropriate racist comments, should not have had his life put on trial since he really could not have planted the glove and there was no remotely credible evidence that he did.  It just became a distraction. 

I‘m not defending these witnesses‘ character.  I‘m just saying it‘s time to better ensure that trials are a search for the truth.  These days, the defense attorneys are expected to adopt a take-no-prisoners attitude.

Now to those who say that it is part of trying to prove someone‘s innocence, I say take a step back.  Unless the police are getting the wrong person in every high profile cases, there are a lot of witnesses who are being improperly and unfairly slimed, some who are forced to come in and testify.  They just don‘t deserve this sort of total character assassination. 

The good news is that in sexual assault cases, there are built in protections for the alleged victims, designed to encourage them to come forward.  The protections are designed to avoid putting the alleged victim on trial.  Judges need to better protect other witnesses as well.

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