Many of those who have been called to testify in a court or jury trial often find it difficult to feel at ease on the big day. Your anxiety about appearing as a witness in court could damage what may be a crucial testimony for your case. The testimony that is elicited on the witness stand provides evidence upon which the Judge or jury makes its decision on the matter. Your testimony as a witness will also be recorded by a court reporter and documented as the official record for the case. The official record, known as a transcript will be read by a reviewing court if there is an appeal. Don’t let that scare you too much! Like many other things, giving testimony can be less stressful with a little preparation. Here are some helpful tips for those who may find themselves tossing and turning over an upcoming Court date.
- It is not always what you say, but HOW you say it. Articulation and pacing are extremely important when giving testimony in court. By speaking slowly and clearly and projecting your voice you will be better understood by those in the court room in addition to making the court reporter’s job A LOT easier. People often speak at approximately 300 + words a minute. The court reporter can record at an average of 220 words a minute. The reporter not only is recording everything you say, they also have to put down who is speaking.
- Speak when spoken to. It is fairly easy to unintentionally jeopardize the accuracy of your testimony by answering a question before counsel has finished asking it. Talking over people in court is a never a good idea. The court reporter may either miss what you said or the transcript will put your answer in the wrong place, confusing what you may have meant. Plus you risk upsetting the judge and court reporter.
- Be explicit with your directions. When giving your account to the court it is extremely important that you do not make assumptions. Details of a case are critical, so make sure that your words provide a picture of the point you are making.
- Use simple language. Although the judge and the attorneys involved will probably understand terms that you are using as they pertain to the case, the court record can often become confusing if the court reporter did not understand your testimony. Use basic words and simplify confusing questions or statements. One suggestion is that you provide your attorney with a list of specialized words (i.e. Medical terms) or definitions of acronyms that you will be using. This list should be provided in advance to the court reporter to make a complete record. Don’t forget that if you say the car was worth 27-9 when you mean that the car was worth $27,900 that you will be making a confusing record.
- It is never helpful to point fingers. When asked questions it important that you use real words instead of abbreviations and gestures. Nodding your head or using words like “uh uh” may not be recorded by the court reporter. A court reporter recently told me that they learn to listen with their fingers and that they do not have time to watch what gestures are being made.
Remembering these few tips will assist you in making your point and in providing an excellent record for a reviewing court if an appeal is filed. Good luck.