Last month’s article addressed 10 tips for being a good witness in a divorce hearing. Here are a few more tips for being a witness in court:
- Before you testify, picture the scene and try to refresh your memory.
- Neat appearance and proper dress are important. Don’t let your clothes distract from your message.
- Avoid distracting mannerisms. Stand upright, pay attention, and speak clearly. Avoid nervous habits, like leg shaking or playing with your hair.
- Don’t try to memorize what you are going to say.
- Be serious in the courtroom. Don’t make jokes or laugh if someone else does. Court is supposed to be a somber place with proper deference given to the seriousness of the issues.
- Speak clearly and loudly enough for the judge or jury to hear you.
- Listen carefully to the question. Don’t give snap answers. Understand the question before you answer.
- Explain your answer when appropriate. If you can’t answer with a “yes” or “no”, don’t feel forced to. Just say, that’s not a yes or no answer.
- Answer only the question asked. Don’t volunteer information. If someone asks you “are you wearing a watch?”, the right answer is “yes” or “no”. The wrong answer is “yes, and it is 10:30 am on March 15, 2018.” See the difference?
- If your answer was not correctly stated or summarized, correct it immediately.
- Don’t give conclusions or opinions unless specifically asked. Stick to the facts. Let the Judge draw conclusions. Witnesses are in the fact-giving business. Judges are in the conclusion business.
- Use phrases that are accurate – “That is all I recall” versus “Nothing else happened”.
- Always be courteous, even if the lawyer questioning you isn’t.
- You are sworn to tell the truth. Tell it.
- If the judge interrupts you or a lawyer makes an objection, stop talking immediately. Wait for instructions from the judge.
- Give positive, definitive answers when possible. Avoid saying, “I think” or looking unsure about your responses.
- Try to not seem nervous.
- Do not lose your temper.
- If you don’t want to answer, avoid asking the judge “Do I have to answer that?”. It makes everyone’s ears perk up to listen and almost every time the answer will be yes.
- Don’t look to the lawyers for cues. You must answer what you know.
- Do not argue with the lawyer.
- Do not nod your head for “yes” or “no”. Speak clearly so your answer gets into the court reporter’s record.
- When walking to the stand, be confident – no smirk, smiles, or downcast look.
- If asked, “Have you spoken to anyone about this case?”, answer truthfully.
- Review these tips before you testify, so they are firmly implanted in your mind.
In conclusion, don’t feel like you have to be a perfect witness. Being a witness is stressful and everyone, including the Judge, knows it.
Hat tip to Cortney Harrison Bethmann and his article on AVVO 25 Tips for Being a Good Witness.