Last time, we laid out what the rules were and gave a good example of what a good witness will do, how they’re protected, and how testifying well can assist your case. In this post, we’ll be getting to the most important rules – which, not surprisingly, are rules one and two.
1. TELL THE TRUTH AND JUST THE TRUTH.
It’s your moral duty and legal responsibility to tell the truth as a witness. Most witnesses who get in trouble in a deposition or in court get in trouble because they don’t tell the truth or the whole truth. You don’t have to remember what you said if you tell the truth. Even witnesses who normally are truthful will often try to shade an answer or leave something out to help themselves or one of the other parties. They figure it is a small thing and won’t matter.
Don’t do this! If you get caught in a little lie, the judge and jury will feel you are lying about 90% of your testimony. So even if 98% of your testimony was truthful, if you lie about 2% the other 98% gets disregarded. Finally, you, or the party you are trying to help, will be punished for your lying when the judge or jury makes their decision. No one likes liars, especially in a court room where the job of the judge and jury is try and find the truth and make the right decision based on testimony.
Now all of the rules are encompassed in the second rule which is:
2) PAY ATTENTION, LISTEN TO THE QUESTION CAREFULLY, AND JUST ANSWER THE QUESTION.
When I say all of the rules are encompassed in the second rule, what I mean is that if you listen to the question and just answer the questions, then you are telling the truth. If you just answer the question you are not volunteering and breaking the other rules. If you remember and just apply this rule you would comply with all of the others. But I am going to go into more detail and hope that this helps you when you are on the witness stand.
This is where 90% of the witnesses fail and become bad witnesses. Don’t think about the effect of your answer. Just think, “What is the answer?” and then give that answer. Most people are thinking about “Why did he ask that?” “What will they think when I say …?” etc..
Don’t do this! The key to this is to listen, and you can’t be listening if you are worrying about what is being asked. Listen to the question! A large percentage of the time, a witness will give a bad answer because they were thinking or day dreaming and do not even hear the question, so they answer the wrong question! This was what was happening in the example we gave in the first article, where Bob’s lawyer asked a question but the witness was answering a question he wasn’t asked and it sounded horrible!
If you listen, you will hear if they ask a stupid question. If you are not listening you will not answer stupid questions and not sound stupid yourself.
Here’s an example. “Isn’t it true that you have the worst tardy record because you are out trying to make the most sales in the company?”
If you are not listening you may simply say “Yes” to this question, when the answer is “No.” If you pay attention and listen you will give the right answer.
If I ask you how much you weigh, the answer pops into your head. If I ask you what is your birth date, the answer pops into your head. This is true every time. Even if I ask you what is the capital of Bolivia the answer pops into your head. Probably that answer is “I don’t know.” That is the right answer as a witness. (I don’t know the capital of Bolivia either, by the way, even though I’m posting this on the Internet where I could look it up!)
Never answer more than what is asked. If they ask were you late then the answer is yes. But just say yes and do not tell them why you were late. As strange as it may seem, the best attorneys in the world will fail to ask such basic questions and they won’t know the answer unless you tell them what they did not ask. So don’t do it, even if you think the answer will help the case. If you try to play attorney and verbally duel with the opposing counsel or judge, you will not be a good witness.
I have lost two cases because my clients volunteered information they thought would be helpful, which the other attorney was not smart enough to ask. The information they volunteered caused them to lose. If they had just answered the questions that were asked, they would have won the trial.
When you are asked a question the answer always pops into your head. If I ask how old you are the answer will pop in you head. In fact you can’t not think about it, even if you try. That answer that pop’s in your head is the answer. Do not worry about why a question was asked. If you give the answer that pops into your head and only that answer, you will be a good witness.
The answer does have to be framed properly. If what pop’s into your head is “Hell no!” just say no. Your answers always need to be without profanity and not framed in a snarky manner.
If you do not understand or hear the question do not answer the question. Do not answer a multi- part question. Make the person repeat the question if you did not hear it or did not understand. Ask them to break it down into separate questions if it is multi-part. If it is a confusing question or if it has double negatives, or is just stupid, make them clarify the question. Tell them that you did not understand the question, that you are nervous, and ask them to break it down, simplify it, repeat or rephrase the question.
Do not be afraid to take your time and think if it is necessary. But pause and think only if it is necessary to understand what was asked or to remember the answer.
Don’t try to answer with legal words or in a legal manner. Use your own words.
LISTEN, LISTEN AND LISTEN, AND THEN JUST ANSWER THE QUESTION AND NOTHING MORE.
Next time, we’ll talk about a couple more rules that, while they fit within the broad rule number two, they still need their own explanations to understand why listening and just answering the question is so important.