How to be a Good Witness at Trial

As a trial attorney for over twenty-five years, I have seen a pattern in what a good witness looks like while testifying at jury trials in Arapahoe and Douglas County, Colorado. Here are some suggestions on how you can be a more effective advocate for your position when you take the witness stand.

What is Your Personal Curb Appeal?

Real estate agents know first impressions from the curb are important for home buyers. What a jury thinks of you when you walk into the courtroom and sit down to testify is important as well. Be sure and dress up for court - never wear a t-shirt, sandals or jeans. Don't overdress either. A jury does not expect men to wear a suit to a criminal trial. Don't wear anything too edgy, like flashy jewelry or bright colors. A conservative dress or business casual is sufficient. Next, cover up your tattoos if you have any. It is not worth offending those who don't enjoy your personal expression. Have your hair cut and looking conservative. Walk with poise as you approach the witness stand and show respect for the jury's time.

How Can Witnesses Position Themselves Well?

When a witness sits before the jury, they should lean forward to the microphone. Make sure it is adjusted, so the witness speaks directly into it and can be heard clearly. Never sit back comfortably in the chair. Monitor your hand movements for nervous gestures. Next, look around the courtroom when answering questions. Turn toward the jury and make eye contact when giving answers some of the time. At other times, look toward the person asking the questions, and sometimes look at the judge.

Why is it Important to Listen Carefully and Speak Carefully When Testifying?

Answering a question too quickly can hurt your credibility in a Denver jury trial. Always wait a second before answering, so you can consider the meaning of the question and think about what to say. Sometimes, witnesses misunderstand a question and give the wrong answer out of their eagerness to talk. In trial, you must always give a verbal response to a question, and it should never include uh-huh or un-uh. Court reporters can't record a head nod. Other problems arise with the witness who talks too fast, so speak slowly and clearly. I have never seen a slow pace decrease the accuracy of testimony. Court reporters and jurors are taking notes of what you say, so they need a pace they can keep up with. Deal with nervousness by practicing at home with questions you expect to be asked, but never commit answers to memory so as to appear rehearsed.

Why Not Sell Your Story Too Hard?

When it comes to testifying in an assault, theft or sexual assault trial, it is easy for a jury to learn which side you represent. Yet we don't want a witness to appear overly biased. The easiest way to lose credibility is to sell your story too hard. Never use words like "always" or "every time". Jurors will be listening to see if you are someone they can believe, so never embellish your story to them. You can gain credibility by underselling your version of what occurred. Consider giving the opposing side testimony favorable to their side - it won't go unnoticed. Remember that a jury trial in Jefferson and Adams County is like a basketball game. Both sides are expected to score points. When a witness refuses to admit a point harmful to their position, they lose credibility. Never feel like giving the other side a point or two on contested, minor issues is a problem. Next, realize that police are usually in the room and able to quickly fact check whatever you say. I recently had a witness testifying who was exaggerating how many times he called 911 on another witness. Within seconds of his claim, the detective sitting with the DA was on her cell phone texting someone to run a check on the number of calls.

What Should the Defendant Keep in Mind About His Testimony?

The person charged with a crime in Littleton and Aurora is the defendant. In addition to what I've mentioned above, I like to tell my clients that they should never fight the District Attorney. A jury will be much more likely to rescue an accused person who is humble. To put it another way, two people fighting like lions will not arouse the rescue instincts of jurors like a lion (DA) fighting against a lamb. As a general rule, we like to rescue the tender, unequipped person from the skilled and aggressive attorney. This does not mean the accused should give in on major points like, "did you commit the crime", but that after saying no, the witness should react modestly and maintain the answer in response to the advances of the DA.

We have been defending our clients in jury trials for over twenty-five years. We care a great deal about them and their charges. To be safe, never answer the questions of police. Instead, call us 24/7 at 303-731-0719 today. Together, we can protect your future.

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