Perhaps one of the most stressful parts about being involved in some type of litigation matter is having to testify under oath. You might receive a subpoena to attend a deposition where you will be questioned about your case or you might have to testify at trial. No matter how well prepared you are, it is impossible to predict what will happen when you give sworn testimony under oath.
Some of the best advice is to relax, be yourself, take your time, and answer all questions truthfully and to the best of your knowledge, information, and belief. The following list attempts to cover some of the general guidelines you should follow when giving sworn testimony:
- Tell the truth- We have all heard that honesty is the best policy and at no time is this more true than when you are testifying under oath. If you are unable to recall something with 100% accuracy you should avoid a yes or no answer and instead reply that you are testifying from memory and that your response is accurate to the best you can remember.
- Answer only the question asked- Give a very brief answer to any question asked. If the question is; do you know what time it is? The answer is not, it is 9:30 AM. The answer is either yes or no.
- Do not volunteer information- Again, answer only the question asked. Offering additional information can only create potential problems for you.
- Fully answer questions that can hurt the other side or help your case- If you are asked to list every activity that you cannot engage in now as a result of your accident, you should be prepared to give a comprehensive, all-inclusive list of all of these accident-related challenges.
- Use the nine-word magic answer- When asked by defense counsel, is that all? You should give the nine-word magic answers, e.g. "that is all I can recall at this time".
- Think about the question- Remember to think about the question before answering it such as; "do you know what time it is?"
- Obey the approximation rule- Use the word "approximately" when giving a time, date, speed, distance or other answers where you are not certain of your response.
- Do not guess- You should never guess at an answer without explaining that you are approximating.
- Never say never or always- These words can be used against you and are not necessary to fully answer the question.
- Let the other attorney finish asking a question before answering- Do not anticipate the question or interrupt opposing counsel.
- Point out when you are interrupted- If you are interrupted by opposing counsel, let the attorney go ahead and finish speaking. You should then respond with, "I'm sorry but I had not completed my answer to the previous question".
- What to do when you do not understand the question- You can tell opposing counsel that you do not understand the question and ask for clarification or to have the question restated or rephrased.
- Always be polite- Courteous witnesses make a positive impression on the jury.
- Client appearance and demeanor- You should dress and behave appropriately. Dress as you would normally would for a celebratory dinner or to a religious event.
- Traps for the plaintiff- Questions regarding how much money you are looking for or what is meant in particular legal documents are meant to trip you up. You should answer such questions by saying, "you would have to ask my lawyer that question".
Make sure that you review your testimony with your lawyer before attending any deposition or court proceeding where you are going to testify. Be calm, be relaxed, be yourself, and follow these rules to help get you through this stressful time.