An article in last week’s Pioneer Press covering the Minneapolis Black Lives Matter protests describes the work of a core element of the National Lawyers Guild (NLG). In particular, it highlighted the role of their legal observers, whose purpose is to “monitor law enforcement and gather evidence.” To do this, they are instructed to watch the police officers, take detailed notes, and avoid distractions. They also take documentation in cases of arrests. They are also under strict instruction to avoid distractions, discussions, and especially arguments. (A legal observer in a jail cell is basically useless.)
This spotlight on the legal observers illustrate the fact that the best legal weapons are sometimes not lawyers or law books, but eyes and ears. The NLG knows that the strength of any case might boil down to its witnesses and the evidence they collect. Check out this NLG Legal Observer Training Manual. Note that it presents tools that anyone might find useful if they need to document a brewing situation which might wind up in court. In particular, see the detailed instructions for taking notes.
The need for a certain kind of “legal observer” certainly isn’t limited to protests. Situations with potential legal ramifications that need documentation might be taking place in your home, community, or workplace. Of course, you may never intend to be a witness and suddenly find yourself in a situation where you might become one (or already have). Nowhere is this more true than for crime victims. The NLG legal observer tools and guidelines might prove useful for your own needs. If you ultimately wind up being called to court as a witness, you know that you must speak clearly, simply, and truthfully on the stand. There are additional guides available in case you want to consult something else to prepare, including this one from the Wadena County Attorney’s office and another from Stearns County. For more information on how to be a good witness, check out this guide from FindLaw.com. If you are testifying in federal court, check out this guide from the U.S. District Court of Minnesota.
Don’t be nervous! Our justice system depends on you!