First and foremost, tell the truth. If you go into court with the intention of deceiving or out right lying, it is not gong to be pleasant. It is a felony to commit perjury and you will be testifying under penalty of perjury. It is a felony for a lawyer to suborn perjury, that is, put on a witness who the lawyer knows will commit perjury.
Furthermore, it does not work. Cross-examination, even done by a less accomplished lawyer, has the effect of exposing inconsistencies and deception. Certainly a good trial lawyer can expose deception rather quickly.
Do not try to evade or avoid. If you take the stand, just answer the questions honestly and fairly. Let the lawyers battle over the nuances and meanings of your answers.
Do not try to claim too much. Avoid saying "never," "absolutely" or "always" unless it is really necessary. Those kinds of claims can open up your whole life. Stick to the actual factual observations that you made in this case.
Listen to the Question and Just Answer that Question
These are the two cardinal rules that you want to have in your mind before and during your testimony. If you follow these two rules, your testimony should go smoothly and you should be on the stand for the shortest possible time.
Rule #1: Listen to the Question. This means that you listen to be sure that you heard and understood the actual question. Do not anticipate. Do not guess. Do not just start talking and answer whatever you want.
If you have any problem -- you drew a blank, you drifted off, you could not hear it or anything -- just say, "Could you please repeat the question." This gives you a chance to listen carefully again and understand exactly what is being asked.
Rule #2: Just Answer that Question. Do not editorialize. Do not add facts. Do not use the question as a platform to say something else that you really want to say. Do not argue with the questioner. Do not ramble.
In fact, just answer the question. If you do this, it is simple.
The Lawyers, not the Witnesses, are there to Argue the Case
Remember that, as a witness, your job is to listen to the question and just answer that question. The lawyers can ask more questions if they feel that an explanation is needed. The lawyers can weave your testimony into whatever their case is at the end during argument. You are there to tell the truth (listen to the question and just answer that question).
You are just one of the sources of the building blocks that the lawyers will use to build their case. Even if, or especially if, you are the defendant in the case, you are not there to argue for your position. You are there to be truthful, appear truthful and just answer the questions asked.
If you do not Understand the Question ask that it be Rephrased
Sometimes you will hear the question clearly but honestly do not understand a word or what the question actually means. if you have your lawyer there, she or he should object if the question is ambiguous or unintelligible. But, if they do not, and you do not understand, asked that the lawyer rephrase the question.
Do not guess at an answer. You can give an estimate but not a guess or speculation. Sometimes, on amounts or distances, you can give a range but, again, only if you feel that it is an approximation not a guess.
Follow the two rules -- Listen to the Question and Just Answer that Question -- and you will be a good, maybe great, witness. If you do not clearly have the question in mind, ask that it be repeated. If you are confused or do not understand the question, ask that it be rephrased. Then, once you clearly understand the question, answer that question and that question only.
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