Testifying in Court can be a very stressful experience. This is because most people have never been to court before, and don’t know what to expect. Here are some tips that will make your appearance in court less stressful, and increase the chances of a positive outcome.
Before You Testify
1. Practice. Meet with your attorney beforehand to go over the questions your attorney will ask you on the stand. Also, go over questions the other attorney will ask you. Knowing what to expect will help you to calmly, and clearly answer questions.
2. Prepare. Review all the paperwork in your case before you testify. If you have testified previously in a deposition, or wrote an affidavit or statement, review it. You will probably be asked about these documents in court. If they are fresh in your mind, your answers will be more accurate.
3. Dress for Success. Although Florida is a very casual place to live, the courtroom is not. It is a serious place, where serious things happen. Some judges won’t let you in their courtroom if you are dressed inappropriately. So, what is “appropriate”? You should dress in “business casual” wear, or in other words, wear your “church clothes.” Never dress in shorts, jeans, t-shirts, sneakers, flip-flops, or other such clothing. For better or worse, how you look to the judge and/or jury can leave a lasting impression, and affect the outcome of your case.
4. Always Act as if All Eyes are On You. From the beginning, the judge and/or the jury will be watching you. How you act can affect your credibility. Laughing loudly, chewing gum, or slouching in your chair, can all convey a disrespectful message. As we tell our children, “be on your best behavior”.
5. Arrive Early. Leave your house early. If you don’t know where the courthouse is, find out ahead of time. As a rule of thumb, you should be at the courtroom at least 15 minutes before your case is scheduled to begin. You may need to meet with your attorney, or go through a long security checkpoint. Being late for court can sometimes cost you the case in some judge’s courtrooms.
6. Be Patient. The wheels of justice grind slowly. Just because you are on time for court, doesn’t mean court will be on time for you. Often, there are unavoidable delays. There is nothing that you, or your attorney, can generally do about this, so the best thing to do is accept it calmly and move on.
When You Testify
7. Stick to the Facts. This is the most important thing anyone can do when testifying. Everyone wants the judge or jury to believe them, but not everyone tells the truth. Even when you do tell the truth, if you exaggerate or minimize the facts, the judge or jury might not believe you. Don’t. When you testify, your credibility is going to be a central issue. Whether you are before a judge or jury, this can make or break your case.
8. Just Answer the question. When you testify, answer the specific question asked of you. Don’t try to throw in facts that you think are relevant. Also, never refuse to answer, or avoid answering a question. This can be a sign that you are being evasive or dishonest. Attorneys are trained in the art of direct and cross-examination and most have years of courtroom experience. Don’t think that you can verbally spar with an attorney and win points with the judge or jury. It will backfire.
9. Trust your Attorney. Your attorney knows the facts of your case and how to apply them to the law in court. He or she will ask the right questions of you and the other witnesses, and object to inappropriate questions or answers when necessary. At no point should you, as the witness, refuse to answer a question or object to a question that is asked. That is the attorney’s job, not yours.
10. Listen to the judge. The judge is the ultimate authority in court. If the judge tells you to do something, do it. If the judge asks you a question, answer it. Never question a judge’s authority or talk back to a judge.
Although testifying in court is rarely a fun experience for a litigant or witness, by following these tips, you can significantly reduce your stress and increase the chances of a favorable outcome for you.