Whether you were directly involved in the accident or simply a bystander who saw the incident, at some point you may be called on to testify in court. Since the judge or jury will be relying on information you provide to reach a decision, here are a few tips to help you be a good witness.
Organize Your Thoughts
Memory is notoriously unreliable. Though people like to think their memories are infallible, they can become corrupted by time, biology, and other factors. The first thing you should do after the accident is create a timeline of events. It may be weeks or months before you'll actually end up on the witness stand, and having the events written down can help refresh your memory. Use a word processing or mind mapping program so you can easily update the information as you remember it. If you have evidence related to the event, make notes in the appropriate place in the timeline referencing it.
Unfortunately, due to the Federal Rules of Evidence, you cannot read from notes while on the witness stand. However, if the testimony you're providing is complex, highly technical, or you need special accommodations, you will be allowed to refer to them before answering a question posed to you. Therefore, taking time to put your thoughts in writing can help you provide the best testimony possible.
Only Say What's Necessary
While you always want to be honest and truthful in your testimony, it's also important to be prudent about what you say and how you say it. You may be tempted to explain in detail what happened, but that's not always necessary or desirable. Your job as the witness is to answer the questions posed to you. Offering more information than required may obscure the real issues at hand. If you don't understand the question, ask for clarification before providing an answer.
It's also essential to not speculate or guess about things you have no knowledge of such as a particular person's motivation for taking a specific action. Only state the facts as you know them. If the attorney or judge asks you a question you don't know the answer to, don't be afraid to say so.
Additionally, avoid speaking with humor, sarcasm, or other conversational inflections. First, it rarely goes over well in a court setting. Secondly, your words are recorded as is into the official record. While you may say "yes" to a question in a sarcastic tone of voice, the "yes" answer will likely be the only thing noted in the transcript, which could cause problems down the line.
Follow Courtroom Etiquette
Pay attention to what's happening in the courtroom. If one of the lawyers raises an objection, stop testifying until the judge responds. This is because you may not have to finish answering the question if the judge sustains the objection, and you don't want to inadvertently give testimony that may hurt the case.
Do not nod or shake your head to answer a question. Remember, your words will be recorded in the official court record, so speak clearly and loudly enough for the judge and attorneys to hear. Although things may get contentious, especially if you're being questioned by the opposing attorney, stay calm and remain courteous.
How you appear and hold yourself will affect how the judge and jury view your testimony, so dress comfortably but nicely for court. Wearing flashy clothing or overdoing it on jewelry can cause people to focus more on what you're wearing rather than what you're saying.
It's not necessary to be a perfect witness, but you should endeavor to do your best. To better prepare for taking the stand, work with the attorney on the case.
For more information, contact a local law firm like Hinkle Law Offices.Share
11 May 2015
Too many single people assume they don't need to plan their estate. My brother fell into this category, and his unexpected passing left our entire family struggling to deal with his home, belongings, and financial accounts. It took nearly three years for the courts to set up a deal because he left no paperwork detailing how he wanted his estate divided. The situation immediately convinced me to work on my own estate, even though I'm still in my early 30's and don't have children or a spouse to worry about. Since it's a little harder to pick beneficiaries and estate managers when you're single, I collected the resources I used for making my own decisions and decided to publish them here on my blog. Use these resources before talking to an estate planning attorney so you're prepared for making hard decisions.