LESSON FIVE – WHAT MAKES A GOOD WITNESS GOOD?
There is more to being a good witness than being on the “right” side of the case. For example:
- A good witness, TELLS THE TRUTH.
- A good witness lets the attorneys make the objections.
- A good witness makes sense to the jurors; the words, word pictures, phrases, sounds, and emotions that are part of the common human experience are conveyed in the witness’ testimony.
- A good witness understands and answers the questions asked. Don’t answer unless you understand the question. Relate to the judge and jury what you are asked, don’t entertain the audience. Don’t play for the cheap laugh. Keep it simple.
- A good witness has the right demeanor. As a professional investigator an SIU Investigator is expected to meet a heightened expectation for being professional, direct, non-evasive and totally familiar with the facts. Be fair and do not give the impression of having an axe to grind or some personal interest in the outcome of the case.
- A good witness doesn’t guess, exaggerate or speculate.
- A good witness doesn’t play the advocate and try to argue the case. When you give into this temptation to be too “helpful” to win the case, you leave yourself open to overstating or exaggerating the case or your knowledge. If you fill in or overstate facts not in your reports to make your testimony better you will get caught and destroy your credibility and the case.
- A good witness doesn’t argue with the defendant’s attorney. Don’t try to demonstrate that you are smarter than the defense attorney or know something that he, or she, doesn’t know. Don’t allow the adversary to make you angry or frustrated, stay calm.
- A good witness spends the time to prepare. Don’t assume you can just pick up a file and walk into court with it and hit only the high points of what you consider to be necessary to support your position in the case.
- Don’t walk into court with your file unless the trial attorney asks you to do so.
- A good witness is sincere, they do not try to appear perfect or better than they are. They are comfortable with conceding what they must without compromising the integrity of their testimony.
- A good witness doesn’t volunteer information on cross-examination. Answer the question with the best short, accurate, and truthful answer possible.
- A good witness behaves as a professional at all times and treats the judge, the court staff, jurors, spectators and the adversary with courtesy at all times. You are “testifying” the entire time you are in the courtroom, whether on the stand or not, and your demeanor is noticed by the court and the jurors.
- Hallways, smoking areas outside the court house, parking lots, and lunch locations are all areas where your demeanor and language may be observed by jurors –remember that. Don’t give a juror the opportunity to see you differently than they saw you in the courtroom. Do not discuss the case within their earshot or display materials related to the case.
These are general concepts and there are always exceptions, however, what makes a good witness good and what makes a good lawyer good are much the same. Be a professional, treat everyone with respect, and realize that everything that a judge or juror see is part of what they use to decide the case, even if it’s outside the courtroom. Although instructed only to consider the evidence before them jurors are human and if they see a witness or a lawyer acting like a “jerk”, demonstrating any form of bias, or ridiculing opposing counsel, witnesses, or the judge they take that back to the deliberation room as well. The next time you are tempted to exercise some road rage on the way to the courthouse, take a moment to consider whether that other driver might be the judge or juror assigned to your case.
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To learn how we can help you protect your rights and interests as a litigant in civil litigation, contact the results-driven Haddonfield defense litigation attorneys at CockerillCraigMoore Law online or call us at 856-795-2220.