Friday, May 7, 2010

HOW TO BE A GOOD WITNESS

It can be intimidating, especially when you are testifying on your own behalf. Recently, I represented a client at a trial/hearing who was so nervous, the client, at several points, could not speak or remember evidence, even though I had the client type the testimony out in advance. So I am posting information from a pamphlet prepared by the Communications Committee of the State Bar of Georgia as a public service who state: "It is not intended to be a comprehensive statement of law. Its purpose is to inform, not to advise on any specific legal problem. If you have specific questions regarding any matter contained in this pamphlet, you are encouraged to consult a lawyer.":

"Rules for a Good Witness

1. Review the case.

Go over the facts of the case before your court appearance. If you have provided a prior statement or deposition, obtain a copy and review your prior testimony.

2. Discuss testimony in advance.

If you are called as a witness, the attorney calling you will undoubtedly discuss the case with you before the trial. There is nothing improper in this. The attorney has to find out in advance what you know about the case. If asked while testifying, do not hesitate to say that you have discussed the case with the attorney who contacted you.

3. Dress appropriately.

You should be comfortable and appropriate for the courtroom. If you are in doubt about what to wear, ask the attorney.

4. Tell the truth.

You are under oath when testifying and can be prosecuted for perjury if you lie. Don't let your personal judgment of who should win or lose color your testimony. Simply tell what you know.

5. Take your time.

Remember to think before you speak. You may be nervous, so don't answer questions before you fully understand them. If you don't understand a question, you can ask for the question to be rephrased or repeated. Never answer a question you do not understand.

6. Speak clearly.

Answer all questions clearly and loudly enough so everyone in the courtroom can hear you. A low tone of voice not only detracts from the value of your testimony, but also may make the court and jury assume you aren't sure about what you're saying. Talk at a moderate rate, and don't slur or mumble your words.

7. Listen carefully.

Don't attempt to guess at questions you don't hear or understand. In those instances, ask that the question be repeated or explained. If you don't know the answer to a question, simply state that you don't know.

8. Answer questions directly.

Give a simple answer only to the question asked. If a question can be answered with a "yes" or "no," do so. If you make a mistake when answering a question, correct it immediately. Don't volunteer information.

9. Don't lose your cool.

Never argue with the attorney (or judge - my insert) asking the questions.

10. Stop your testimony.

If an objection is made by one of the attorneys, or if the judge speaks, stop your testimony immediately. Don't try to complete your answer. Listen to the objection so you understand why it is being made.

11. Never guess.

If you do not know the answer, say so. If you have enough information to provide a reliable estimate in response to questions about distances, time or speed and you estimate, make sure to say that your answer is only an estimate.

12. Do not disclose anything your attorney has told you.

Conversations with your attorney are protected by the attorney-client privilege.

13. Be yourself.

Be natural and relax. If you tell the truth and remember you are just talking to some neighbor on the jury, you will get along fine."

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