Monday, February 2, 2015

Help Your Witness Deliver Effective Testimony with Full Sentences

Rare is the witness who isn't anxious, worried, scared - even terrified - during deposition or cross-examination. Often this leads to a rapid pace of speech. Not only that, but witnesses tend to believe that if they just blurt out their response, they'll get this dreadful experience over with sooner.

Now, there's nothing wrong with speaking quickly, in and of itself, but speaking quickly often results in a failure to think things through. Failing to think through a response can often lead to flawed testimony, if not downright disastrous testimony. Unfortunately, simply telling a witness to "slow down, speak more slowly" may work for a response or two, but with the pressure of nerves, the witness's pace picks up rapidly thereafter.

One technique that works well, while preparing the witness for their testimony, is to encourage the witness to speak in full sentences, and to do so by basically repeating part of the question itself. This has two advantages. First of all, it forces the witness to listen better to the question asked. You can't very well repeat part of the question if you haven't carefully listened to it. Secondly, it slows the response down. The witness is forced to think through the whole of their response, to concentrate. And that assures better testimony.

For example, in response to "How soon after this meeting of May 22 '09 did you have occasion to visit the construction site?" "I had occasion to visit the construction site next on May 30 of '09" slows the response down, as opposed to a simple "May 30, '09." It also helps the witness stay on track with the subject at hand.

This is even more critical with a compound question, for example: "Do you know whether you ever saw water in the trench or ever examined that trench before May 30?" The quick response of "No”"could be inaccurate as to either seeing the water or examining the trench. A full sentence response, such as “I did examine the trench before May 30, and I did not see water in the trench before May 30" wordy as it may be, could be more accurate.

Full sentences work, both in terms of slowing the witness down so that his/her brain is engaged before the response is offered, and of producing a more accurate response.