The key thing to remember about testifying is -- everything you say can and will be used against you. It is the job of opposing counsel (or the state, in criminal cases) to try to learn everything he/she can about you, and then use that information against you, or against some individual in the trial.
Remember, you are speaking under oath. That means, if you lie, bad things can happen to you. Perjury is the act of lying under oath (to perjurer one's self).
What do attorneys ask of their clients? We want you to do the following when answering opposing counsel:
- Answer only the question asked.
- Keep your answer simple. Provide as little depth as possible to what is asked.
- Be polite, and always respectful.
- DO NOT be evasive or argumentative.
- Stick to the story! Remember, prior to trial you will have already chatted with your attorney and described what happened. Don't change things!
- If you get confused or don't know what to say, look at your attorney so he/she can object to buy you time.
Whenever possible, site (mention) supporting documents. Use outside evidence to bolster your story.
The VirginiaCLE website has a useful summary:
Witnesses must come to understand that there is no "truth" unless it is proved in court by persuasive evidence. An online definition of "finding of fact" reads, "the determination of a factual question vital (contributing) to a decision in a case by the trier of (jury or judge sitting without a jury) after a trial of a lawsuit, often referred to as findings of fact." And yet, the definition of a "fact" is variously "the quality of being actual," "an actual occurrence," or "a piece of information presented as having objective reality." A person limiting herself to presenting Sergeant Friday's "Just the facts, ma'am" will be presenting subjective observations as perceived by her, not unassailable truths.
Remember, work with your attorney to practice and test your statements. Tell the truth, but be ready to be thorough and be questioned. You can do this!
Do you need trial help? Call us now to get prepared for your hearing. It can make the difference between success and failure.
Sean R. Hanover, Esq