Is Police Bias Preventing a Fair Trial in the Kim Pham Case? | Using Cross-Examination

173719642The nation looks on as the case of Kim Pham, the 23-year-old who was beaten to death outside of a Southern California nightclub, goes to trial. The prosecution continues to portray the two women accused of murdering Pham—Candace Marie Brito and Vanesa Tapia Zavala—as violent offenders who viciously attacked the unsuspecting woman.

Prosecution Argues Murder, Defendants Say Self-Defense

The Los Angeles Times reports the defense claims that Brito and Zavala acted in self-defense after Pham instigated the altercation. Zavala’s counsel stated that his client told law enforcement officials about an altercation where she received facial injuries. However, the police officer who received the declaration did not collect photographs of Zavala’s injuries until several days afterward.

In court, an undercover detective who fronted as an inmate to coax information from Zavala said that when she had chatted with Zavala in prison, the defendant argued self-defense in the fight against Pham.

Defendants May Not Be Receiving Fair Trial

The defendants’ lawyers have claimed that the actions of the police officers involved in the case, particularly the detective who spoke with Zavala about her injuries, may qualify as police misconduct.

The two defense attorneys have stated that the police officer waiting four days to photograph Zavala’s wounds is one sign that law enforcement had decided the defendants’ guilt prior to concluding a thorough investigation. This could bias the court against Brito and Zavala, especially when considering the power that police testimony and reports can have on jurors.

Police Testimony and Reports Can Be Biased in the Prosecution’s Favor

It’s not unheard of for law enforcement officers to present cases in a biased light by misrepresenting witness statements and omitting certain case facts. Police officers craft reports and courtroom testimonies carefully, usually with the following goals in mind.

  • Qualifying the arrest
  • Protecting the evidence from being undermined by the defense
  • Minimizing the risk to the officer’s character

In order to prevent biased testimony from swaying the jury in well-known cases like the beating death of Kim Pham, defense attorneys typically take advantage of cross-examination to showcase the testifying officer’s prejudices. Only time will tell if this will be the case in the trial against Zavala and Brito.

In Relentless Criminal Cross-Examination, author Kevin Mahoney explains, “A police report is not an objective recitation of the facts from a disinterested witness. Instead, it is usually written by the arresting officer post-arrest. Most officers write a report not with the goal of helping the arrestee obtain an acquittal, but to make the arrest stick… Few jurors will have considered what factors motivate a detective or officer in drafting his reports. Use cross-examination to both expose the officer’s motivations and to educate the jury about them.”

Relentless Criminal Cross-Examination Tips From Attorney Kevin Mahoney


Compelling openings, passionate closings, and defense witnesses are rarely enough to win a criminal trial. The process is too in favour of the prosecution. The surest route to acquittal is effective cross-examination.

It is incisive cross-examination that exposes the shoddy and predetermined nature of a police investigation, the expert’s reliance on flawed forensic techniques, and the witness’ lack of candour. For the criminal defense lawyer, Kevin Mahoney’s Relentless Criminal Cross-Examination will teach you how to master successful cross-examination.

Mr. Mahoney teaches you how to outline in your opening the weaknesses you will expose in the government’s case. Second, he shows you how to demonstrate to the jury, through cross-examinations, that the facts are more in accord with your opening than with the prosecutor’s. The book is also filled with practical strategies, angles of attack, pattern Q&A, and other essential elements of criminal defense advocacy.