Wednesday, March 26, 2008

7 Tips for Witnesses

To be an effective witness requires preparation and forethought by the prospective witness. Ideally, there should be coordination and discussions with the attorney who is calling the witness. In the best situation, there would also be a rehearsal in a simulated courtroom environment, although that rarely happens in the ordinary case. The following are some basic steps that can be taken to prepare a witness to testify.

1. Review the facts, records or whatever will be testified about. Refresh your memory so that you remember the important facts and are clear about what happened. Sometimes, there is a long time between the event that occurred and when the testimony takes place. Be sure to review all the facts and any records about the event. It's a good idea to record your observations right after an event occurs so that you can review that later to help remember what happened.

2. Talk with the attorney about what to expect. This would include reviewing possible questions, objections and strategies. Have the attorney try to anticipate what will be discussed so you can prepare for it. There is nothing unethical about rehearsing your answers to some questions, but you need to be careful to avoid appearing too rehearsed because that might appear dishonest or not credible. It's nice to not be surprised. You can give a more accurate answer and be more helpful to a judge or jury if you have had time to think about an issue and have a clear memory about it.

3. Always follow the judge's instructions. The judge is in charge and you will not win an argument with him or her. You can hurt your credibility if you don't do something the judge ordered you to do.

4. Be sure to listen to the question before you start to answer. Think about your answer before you start giving it. This isn't a race -- you don't have to hurry an answer. Pause before answering. Be sure you pay attention and hear the whole question, and then answer. If you don't understand the question or didn't hear it clearly, you can ask that the question be clarified or repeated.

5. Pay attention to basic courtroom etiquette.
  • Don't argue with the other attorney, and especially not with the judge.
  • Don't interrupt the questioner.
  • If there's an objection, stop talking and then do whatever the judge tells you to do -- answer the question or don't answer it.
  • Just answer the questions. Don't ask a question in response.
  • Speak up so everyone can hear you.
  • Don't lose your temper. That will hurt your credibility enormously.

6. Don't try to carry the whole load--rely on an attorney. The attorney will have a fresh perspective and be able to look at the big picture. If the attorney does not think that asking you a certain follow-up question will help, the attorney normally will more on to more important things. If you think you got "hurt" by some questioning, it is better to let the attorney decide whether to get back into the issue. The attorney is in a better position to determine what is important and what is not essential. If you get cut off and cannot give a full answer when you are being cross-examined, let your attorney decide on whether to pursue it.

7. Tell the truth! Don't embellish, exaggerate or generalize. Attorneys and judges are usually very literal-minded. Don't guess at the answer if you're not sure. It is OK to say you don't remember something. Just be truthful.

If you follow these simple tips, your experience as a witness will be less stressful, more productive and more effective.

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