Testifying at trial is a terrifying situation for most people. You’re sitting in front of people who you probably know very well (especially in domestic court). You’re being asked question after question. Everyone is looking at you for the truth, to explain to the court the
facts that only you know. This is what scares witnesses. They’re scared they’ll say the wrong thing, and the Judge will think they are lying. They’re scared to say they don’t know because they think the Judge will think they’re avoiding a question. They’re scared that if they say the truth, it’ll get twisted into something that could be used to harm them or someone in their family. The truth of the matter is, testifying is an art and as long as you prepare yourself, you’ll come out just fine. Here are some tips on how to testify:
- Do not try to figure out what the opposing side is trying to do. They may be trying to cause you to stumble or twist your words. Think before you answer, but don’t overthink. It’s better to have the lawyer on your side think ahead for you. They know the tactics better, and can always come back to clarify what has been twisted in your testimony. Simply answer the question after you have thought about your answer. Think about the best way to tell the truth, not the best way to trick opposing counsel.
- Do not show emotion. Of course, they’re trying to upset you or confuse you. If you begin to feel frustrated, breathe & focus on the fact that it’ll be over soon. Know that the Judge and everyone else is there to hear YOU, so if someone is trying to upset you, they’ll see it. They will have your back. It’s okay to be upset, but contain it.
- Do not add commentary. Everyone remembers the witness (Rachel Jeantel) during the Zimmerman trial who says, “That’s real retarded, sir.” Don’t be that person. It’s not cute. It’s disrespectful to the court. You are there to give the information you know, and that’s it. Don’t let them get under your skin enough to allow them to bring you down. (This goes hand in hand with the previous tip).
- Answer the question being asked. This is the most important tip. If they ask you, “Did he strike you with his hand?” And your response is “No, because if he would have, I would’ve stabbed him with a kitchen knife. I have been trying to kill him for two weeks now with rat poison in his coffee, but he just won’t die. I’d like him to try to hit me! I’d gut him so fast!” You’re probably going to lose favor with the judge. Of course this is a bit overkill, but realize what we’re saying. Example 1: When did you two meet? Answer: August of last year. (Good Answer) Example 2: When did you two meet? Fall, maybe. I was wearing an Alabama jersey and dating his cousin. He was wearing an Auburn jersey which was hard for me to get past, but it’s okay. After a few dozen beers, it didn’t matter anymore. “(Bad answer).
- Prepare. It is always best to refresh your memory on the facts to which you are testifying. You should go in there prepared to answer each question. If you can, speak with the lawyer who is direct examining you so you understand what they are asking. They can’t tamper with your testimony or give you an answer, but they can make you understand their questions. They are there to help you realize where they are going so you two can tell your story (the truth) to the court together.