Yikes! I've Got to Testify in Court! How Do I Conduct Myself?
SUGGESTIONS FOR TESTIFYING IN COURT
The following are some helpful tips for your upcoming court appearance:
- How you behave can be as important as what you say in your testimony. Proper conduct is very important; be courteous and be serious at all times.
- Dress appropriately, showing respect to the judge and jurors.
- Never discuss your case in the courthouse in the open. Nor should you mingle or discuss your case with the jurors.
- Do not interrupt your attorney while a witness is testifying or the judge or opposing attorney is speaking.
- Always rise when the judge or jurors enter or leave the courtroom.
- Do not react visibly to others' testimony; control your feelings.
- When you take the witness stand, you should not be chewing gum or have anything in your mouth. Also, you should go empty-handed. Keep your hands folded on your lap; do not cover your mouth or face with your hands and do not fidget with your hands.
- Stay calm. If you feel overwhelmed or overwrought, do not speak; take a deep breath and let it out slowly to relax. Once you have regained your composure, continue to testify.
- Be forthright and confident in your answers. Speak up for all to hear. A weak voice communicates lack of confidence.
- Do not speak your answer until the entire question is asked.
- Be certain you understand the question before answering. If the question is vague or unclear, ask for it to be repeated or rephrased. Listen carefully to the questions asked of you. No matter how nice the attorney may seem on cross-examination, he may be trying to hurt your testimony. Do not give a snap answer without thinking. Never answer a question you do not understand.
- If you hope to succeed in your case, never lie, exaggerate or make up answers.
- When asked a question, do not look to the judge or your lawyer. If the question is improper, your attorney will raise an objection.
- Do not memorize your answers; your testimony will sound too "pat" and will not sound believable.
- Stick to the question asked. Do not ramble or volunteer information.
- Do not be evasive because an answer is embarrassing or makes you look bad. If you paint too rosy a picture, your testimony will not sound credible.If you tell the bad along with the good, it makes your testimony realistic and strengthens your case.
- Do not guess at an answer. Just say you do not know.
- Before you testify, try to picture the scene the objects there, the distances and just what happened so that you can recall more accurately when you are asked.
- Explain your answer, if necessary. Give the answer in your own words, and if a question cannot be truthfully answered with a "yes" or "no", you have a right to explain the answer.
- If your answer was not correctly stated, correct it immediately. If your answer was not clear, clarify it immediately.
- The judge and the jury are interested only in the facts. Therefore, do not give your conclusions and opinions.
- Always be courteous, even if the lawyer questioning you may appear discourteous. Do not appear to be a cocky or smart-aleck witness. This will lose you the respect of the judge and jury.
- Stop instantly when the judge interrupts you, or when an attorney objects to a question. Do not try to sneak your answer in.
- Above all - this is most important - do not lose your temper. Remember that some attorneys on cross-examination will try to wear you out so you will lose your temper and say things that are not correct or that will hurt you or your testimony. Keep your "cool." Also, do not "hedge" or argue with the defense attorney.
- Do not nod your head for a "yes" or a "no" answer. Speak so that the court reporter can hear the answer.
- When you leave the witness stand after testifying, wear a confident expression, but do not smile or appear downcast.
Please go back and review these suggestions so that you will have them firmly in your mind. We hope they will help.
CHECKLIST FOR THE CLIENT/WITNESS AT TRIAL
The following are general instructions for you to prepare for courtroom testimony.
There will be twelve (or six) jurors in this case. I want you to think of then as your friends and neighbors who really want to hear what you have to say about this case. I want you to look at them and talk to them when you are answering both my questions as well as the cross-examination questions. Remember that those jurors have a duty to do in this case and they will take their duty very seriously They are going to decide who is telling the truth and who is not. If you fail to look at them while you are answering the questions they are not as likely to believe what you have to say. So, just remember to look at the jury.
I will be the first to ask you questions. Since you are "our witness" I cannot ask you leading questions. So, I have to ask you "Was the light red or green?" instead of, "The light was red, wasn't it?" Therefore, you need to give me a little help as far as speaking up and giving the needed information to the jury.
When I have finished asking you my questions, the lawyer representing the Defendant will then have a right to ask you questions and can ask leading questions. It is very important that you listen closely to what he asks leading questions. It is very important that you listen closely to what he asks and just answer the question without going into other matters. If you continue talking after you have answered the question you are just helping him figure out his next question to you. You will also increase the chance of saying the wrong thing and thereby give him a better chance of showing you are wrong about something. If he asks you if you have the time, your answer should be, "yes" (or "no"), but do not give him the time until he asks for it.
Please do not try to make objections to his questions. I will not let him abuse you and neither will the judge.
But, just because he can't abuse you does not mean that he is not allowed to ask you tough questions. So long as the questions are permitted under the rules, then you must do your best to truthfully answer them. I will review your testimony with you in a few minutes to prepare you for what he is likely to ask you, and I am sure you will be able to handle all his questions well.
If he asks something that is tough, do not look at me, because the jury will get the impression that you are expecting me to help you with your answer. That would make a bad impression on the jury. Remember to look at the jury and, if your answer is "I do not know," then tell them that.
Be truthful in your answers, and you will not have anything to remember.
The judge will not permit the other lawyer to ask the kind of personal questions that he asked at depositions.The rules are different in court. (The court will probably set limits on what types of personal questions will be allowed, such as conviction of a crime involving moral turpitude, prior accidents or injuries or prior claims or lawsuits for injuries or testimony at previous trials or depositions.)
Be respectful toward everyone in the courtroom. Being too smart or trying to argue about things (other than the facts that you actually know) can cause the jury and judge to lose confidence in everything you say. Let me take care of the situation if the other lawyer becomes offensive with you or otherwise asks you questions outside the rules.
If either lawyer makes an objection, you should stop talking until the judge rules on the objection. If the judge says the objection is "overruled" then you will be allowed to answer the question. If he says the objection is "sustained" it means you cannot answer it. Do not worry about what is happening, since it will probably be confusing to you anyway. Just wait until after the judge has ruled and either the judge or I (or possibly even the other lawyer) will tell you whether or not to answer the question. If you forget the question during the meantime, then ask that the question be repeated.
Time, Speed, Distance, Diagrams
Unless you have actually timed and measured the events, you would be surprised how far off your guesses or best estimates can be. If you saw something took three seconds that actually took two seconds, or was one hundred feet when it was actually eight-five feet, you may well have placed the fault for the accident on the wrong party. Attorneys are trained to calculate the speed, time or distance if they can learn two of these three measurements. That one second or fifteen foot, distance error could make a big difference in the final calculation and therefore the fault. So, do not make guesses or estimates by the use of numbers. It is acceptable to use common expressions of time such as "a split second", " a blink of an eye" or "quicker than a New York minute", and these will avoid incorrect calculations of speed, time, distance and fault.
Also, do not try to draw any pictures or diagrams. Just tell the lawyer that you cannot do it. Sketches are never accurate but the other lawyer will always try to take advantage of any errors that seem to point fault away from his client.