What To Expect If You Are A Witness In A Trial
After months, or years, and several attempts at negotiating a settlement, a time comes when you need to move forward and take the case to trial. You might be the plaintiff or witness in the case, regardless, the testimony you give will have a significant bearing on the case. You are going to testify to some very important facts that need to be presented to the judge and the jury.
At some point prior to trial, you may be summoned to attend a deposition, and if you are required to produce any documents with you, you will be sent a subpoena duces tecum, naming the documents you must bring with you. To the layperson, this is somewhat like a practice trial. There will be a court reporter present to transcribe your testimony so it can be printed and shared with the attorney for the plaintiff and the defense. You will then be asked to answer under oath.
The attorneys for the plaintiff and the defendant will both be allowed to ask questions. Your answers should be truthful, to the best of your ability. The deposition is less formal than a courtroom, and there may be questions asked in a deposition that will not be asked in the courtroom.
Prior to the deposition, you will be contacted by your attorney and given more details about your testimony in the deposition. You will be instructed on how to answer the question, not told what to say. Some situations require long and detailed accounts of what you know as a victim or witness, and what you have seen or experienced. Other questions may need only a “yes” or “no” response. If you have documented all the events surrounding your case, you will be prepared and should have no trouble recalling information.
After the deposition is taken, it could be months before the actual trial begins. As the date for the trial draws near, your attorney will want to talk with you and prepare you for your testimony in court. Most people don’t go to court very often, and it can be a very nerve racking experience. Your attorney will do a good job of putting you at ease and reassuring you. You have a good case, or you would not be going to court at all, so do not forget that.
If you are not the plaintiff, you might just be a witness that has some pertinent information about the case. You may not know the plaintiff’s attorney very well, but they want to get to know you, so relax.
What Attorneys Are Looking For In A Witness
Tell your attorney the whole story. It will not serve you very well to have surprises in the courtroom when your attorney hears a different version of the story or details that you have never mentioned before taking the witness stand. The defense will have their version of the events, and they may differ from your version. Do not let that throw you. It is your word against theirs; that is the adversarial system of law that goes back centuries, to English Common Law. Attorneys and judges are accustomed to hearing stories that contain differing facts. Over the course of the trial, the truth will reveal itself.
Your attorney will take the time to educate you before the trial. He or she will show you all of the documents they are planning to present as evidence in the trial. Your attorney will go over the questions they plan to ask you about each document and each event they want to put into the record. In court, you will also be questioned by the attorney for the defense. Your attorney has no control over what they will ask or what documents they are planning to use in their defense. Your attorney will have some idea if there is anything that can hurt your case and prepare you for the defense to bring it up either in questioning or with documentation. Your attorney will want to reduce any element of surprise.
Your attorney will also prepare you for legal terms you will hear in court and what they mean. This is very important for you when you are on the witness stand, under cross-examination by the attorney for the defense. Listen for your attorney to interrupt the questions that he or she does not want you to answer.
Remember to answer the question the way your attorney advised you to. You are not telling your life story on the stand; you are answering the questions with enough detail to be specific but without offering more than the defense is asking for. Listen to every question carefully before answering.
What To Wear In Court
Attorneys have different views on the clothes witnesses should wear to court, and your attorney will tell you what they prefer. In general, wear something nice and conservative. You are not only presenting your case to the jury, you are there to present yourself.
You should consider wearing a dress or skirt, with a nice blouse or a pantsuit. Never wear anything too short or too revealing. Keep jewelry and makeup to a minimum. Also, wear no or very little perfume. The courtrooms are small spaces, and you do not want the jurors to be gasping for air.
Suits are always nice. However, dress or nice casual pants are fine. Match them with a nice shirt or a sweater.
There is nothing worse than having a witness look uncomfortable and contrived. You need to be yourself. A clean, neat, conservative version of yourself.
It is impossible to be on the witness stand and not have your personality show, even though you might be nervous or apprehensive. The most important thing is to be truthful and be sincere. The jury will be listening to you and watching you with intensity. Do not let that upset you. You have waited a very long time to be in court, and you finally have the opportunity to tell your story of suffering. You would not be there if you did not have a case or any chance of winning.
Contact The Loewy Law Firm today to set up a free consultation.