Are you required to testify in a divorce or custody battle for a friend or loved one?
We have seen well-intended friends and family work their hardest to unintentionally wreck a benign situation by losing all creditability by acting improperly on the stand, you see, sometimes the way someone reacts in avoiding the truth is registered in the mind of jurors as much worse than the truth.
Every time on the stand-just telling the truth, regardless of how painful or seemingly damning it seems is the best course of action. People on the stand feel like the world is caving in on them, their amygdala (which is the structure of the brain which motivates the fight or flight response) is raging, and that isn’t a good thing for a witness to be wrestling with while trying to account details regarding while recalling facts.
Lawyers see this in court every day. The prosecutor examines the witness and it seems like an open and shut case, people minds are made up about the facts… Until… The defense’s cross-examination begins and all of a sudden everything seems to be more understandable as situations are explained and intentions seem noble. This is whats referred to as the “cadence of the case.” Humans have a hard time letting opinion swing so hard in a way that isn’t accurate to intent or the situation and being the complex mental process of trying to swing the fact under their own power as a witness, which is end result is counterproductive.
We can explain many negative facts away, what we can not get back is credibility.
Here are some tips on how to be a good witness:
- Tell the whole truth, Not part of the truth. Don’t exaggerate the truth.
- Only answer the questions asked. Don’t get off topic, or you may find your self on the Judge’s bad side.
- Look the Judge square in the eyes. The judge is normally the person you’re talking to if you’re speaking to a jury, pick three or so members and rotate eye contact between the members.
- Don’t lose control of your emotions. While tempered emotions can be used to drive home your point, out of control emotions will cause damage to your credibility.
- Think positive. Don’t use this as a chance to take cheap shots, remember you have the floor and were looking for fact-based arguments to build a case from, opinions, aren’t worth much in a court of law.
- Everything is being observed. Unless you have been trained as a spy, court officials are better than average at figuring out when someone not telling the truth.
- It’s normal to confront the hard questions head-on. Nothing feels worse in court than leaving an exposed “gotcha” moment, especially one in which could have been avoided simply by mentioning it first.
- Listen to the question carefully and fully before giving an answer. Watch for the opposing attorney to reframe the question into something that mischaracterizes the witness’ statements.
- The calmest mind wins. We as humans act as amplifiers of sorts between us during normal interaction; in-that anxiety or panic tends to spread as well as being calm and level-headed, the most mature among us are typically look-to as anchors for the less experienced ones.
- Always pause before answering to give your lawyer time to object. The judge will decide if it’s pertinent enough to demand further explanation.