Witness Testimony Tips In Kansas And Missouri Court
You have a hearing or trial coming up. Please review this non-exhaustive list the night before your court date and again in the minutes leading up to your court date. These rules will assist you in providing the court with testimony in the most professional way possible. Judges and juries are very perceptive, and this list was created out of a decade of observing witnesses that either lost their case, or severely damaged their case by violating the below rules.
You will not win your case by following these rules. However, violation of these rules will likely be very detrimental to the outcome of your legal proceeding:
Dress nice but do not overdo it. Males should wear slacks and sport coat. Women may wear dresses, skirts or slacks. Coats for women look good in court. Blouses should be plain with no designs or “frills.” Women should not wear clothing that is tight or too colorful. Red, zebra, leopard, or leather should be avoided at all costs. High heels should not be worn. Neither men nor women should wear expensive or excessive jewelry. Men should wear one simple ring and a simple watch. (Again, expensive rings or watches should not be worn, e.g., diamonds, Rolex, Gucci, etc.) Women should wear a ring, a simple watch and perhaps a simple bracelet or necklace. Earrings may be worn, but they should not be expensive or “dangly.” Hairstyles for men or women should be “conventional.” If you are unaccustomed to wearing a suit, or might feel awkward in a suit, then dress in slacks and a button down. We certainly wish that you were not judged on your appearance, however, you will be severely judged on what you wear from the minute that you walk into Court. We have seen witnesses in jeans and baseball caps draw the ire of the Judge/Jury on more occasions than We can count.
Arrive a half-hour early for your scheduled time. YOU MUST NOT BE LATE FOR COURT AT ANY TIME.
Remember all those grade school rules? Use your words, do not chew gum, sit up straight. They all apply here tenfold.
Use your words: “uh-huh”, “yeah”, nods of the head, shoulder shrugs do not play well as they make your look uncouth, and they do not read well on the transcript. You say any of the following: “Yes”, “No”, “I don’t remember”, or “that is all I remember now.”
Do not chew gum: if this needs to be explained further, you are likely going to lose your case anyway. If you want to chew gum on the stand, you might as well wear a Hugh Heffner Robe, while palming a high ball, and refer to the judge as “Chief”. You would convey a similar level of respect for the court.
Sit up on the stand: Keep your back straight and off the chair. Do not lean back. Do not slouch down. Body language is everything. Look attentive and sit in a posture that conveys attention and respect.
Look at the judge when you talk. If there is a jury, then you look at the jury when you respond. This is one of the most important rules on this book. You are being asked questions by opposing counsel and you are answering these questions. However, you are trying to convince the judge or the jury so talk to him/her/them. And for the love of all that is holy, do not look at me in Court to seek approval after you have answered the question, or worse look at me as if seeking guidance on how to answer a question.
Be polite; it makes a good impression on the Court. For some of you that are, shall we say, severely challenged in the manners department, here is how it is done:
Answer opposing counsel as “Yes, sir” or “Yes, madam” or “Yes, Counsel.”
Address the judge as “your Honor”. That is the only way that a witness shall address a judge. Do not say “Yes, sir” or “Yes, madam” or “Yes, Counsel” to the Court. The judge has a title, he/she has spent a lifetime earning that title, and you are in their very structured and rule-driven world. You will say only “your Honor.”
Do not tell jokes. You see this a lot. Some people, when they get very nervous, crack wise a little. This is almost always a mistake and, depending on the joke, sometimes a very grievous mistake.
Do not appear nervous or scared. This includes:
Do not fidget,
Do not dart your eyes,
Do not chew fingernails,
Do not shift in your seat,
Breath normal and not heavy,
Do not drum on the witness stand, and
Do not chicken-neck.
When we are unsure of ourselves, we are nervous. Preparation for your hearing is key. You will want to review any documents you may refer to during your testimony. Also review any statement you made, and talk to friends, family, or coworkers to recall details you have forgotten. A visit to the court before the case may make you feel more comfortable about your court appearance. After you watch a few cases, you will see that no one dies or is even injured when testifying. You will feel better when it is your turn.
Do not be argumentative, and
Do not convey anger. If the other side baits you into becoming angry, they are probably trying to set you up for a trap. So, keep your cool. Lose your temper, and you may lose the case.
Tell the truth. It is going to come out eventually anyway and it is better coming from us than from the other side. If the other side catches you in a lie, you may lose the case. However, make sure you told the truth to me before you tell it in court.
Listen carefully to all questions, whether posed by me or by the other side. You cannot give a truthful and accurate answer if you do not understand the question. If you ask the attorney, he or she will repeat the question. If you estimate a time or a cost, make sure the court knows it is an estimate.
If you make a mistake during your testimony, correct it as soon as possible. Politely say something such as, “May I correct something I said earlier?”
When the other side asks you a question to which you do not know the answer, say, “I do not know.” Witnesses are often trapped by being led into areas about which their knowledge is inadequate. They try to save face and end up making a statement that is incorrect. This gives the other side what it needs to shoot them down. You can usually avoid the problem by saying “I do not know.”
In cross-examinations, most questions can be answered with “yes,” “no,” “I do not know,” or with a simple sentence.
Do not volunteer information. Do not let the other attorney pull you into testifying more than you need to by pausing and waiting for you to add more testimony. When you are finished with your answer, stop.
Do not say, “that’s the whole conversation” or “nothing else happened.” Say instead, “that’s all I recall,” or “that’s all I remember now.” It may be that after more thought or another question, you will remember something important.
“Always,” “all,” “never,” and “ever” are sinful words. If you use these words in your testimony, the other side only needs to come up with one exception to undermine you.
One of the oldest tricks in the book is for the other side to ask you if you have discussed the case with the attorney or with other witnesses. If the other side asks you, then tell the truth–you have. The other side is not asking you if you have fabricated the story, but it is asking you if you have talked about it. Few people go to court without having discussed the case with the attorney and other witnesses. If the other side asks if we have told you what to say, tell them, “They told me to tell the truth.” That is the truth.
Always check with Titus Law Firm, LLC a couple of days before court to make sure the case will be heard. Often cases are continued by the court for one reason or another, and we do not want you to waste a trip to the courthouse.
On behalf of Titus Law Firm, LLC, thank you for your cooperation in this matter. If you wish to print this list and study the same, you can do so here.