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How Witness Preparation Can Make (Or Break) Your Trial

Many witnesses find questioning in trial to be a frightening setting, but this is where witness preparation can turn the scene around. Not only is witness preparation about telling the truth, but it also involves active listening, cooperating with attorneys, and much more. Of course, witness preparation can go one of two ways. It can either help your case or completely head south. Knowing the right and wrong practices can help guide you and your witness when you begin witness preparation sessions. 

Practices that Can Make Your Trial

Direct Examination 

When preparing for questioning, the first thing to go over and practice is direct examination. While this may seem obvious, the nature of testifying in court is foreign to many. In order to keep the case working in your favor, it is important to get witnesses comfortable with questioning. This gives witnesses a general idea of how questioning works. 

Listening Carefully to the Question

Teaching witnesses how to listen and analyze questions is crucial. Sometimes, witnesses are so eager to answer questions that they don’t listen to what the questioner is really asking. Another mistake witnesses can make is answering too fast. Make sure the questioner has completed their question(s) before answering. 

Answering Only the Question That Was Asked 

All a witness has to worry about is answering the question asked and that’s it. Nothing more, nothing less. If you don’t have to answer beyond the issue asked, then a witness shouldn’t provide more information. This is important to keep in mind, especially when being cross-examined by an opposing attorney. Never volunteer to provide more information. 

Keeping Communication Open 

Staying in touch with witnesses weeks prior to trial can help in preparation. Trial schedules are subject to change, so updating your witness is the least help one can offer. Additionally, keeping communication open between you and the witness can be useful when new information arises on the witness’s end. Of course, give your witness a means of communication where they can always reach you. 

Surviving Cross-Examination 

You never really know how cross-examination will go. It can either be smooth-sailing or could be rather uncomfortable or difficult for the witness to navigate through. In order to help your witness get a feel for a possible unpleasant experience, it would be best to mock a cross-examination. You can have someone on your team adopt a cross-examination attitude so your witness can prepare for all kinds of scenarios. 

Practices That Can Break Your Trial 

Arguing with the Questioner 

One of the biggest downfalls a witness can make is allowing the questioner to get the best of them. This mostly happens during cross-examination. An opposing attorney can get worked up, causing the witness to become overwhelmed and respond poorly. It is important to let your witness know that they need to remain calm and collected even when the opposing attorney fails to effectively communicate. 

Not Wearing the Proper Attire 

One of the most basic standards during a trial is to show up properly dressed. When attending a trial, you should go in your best business attire. You have to provide your witness with some direction regarding the proper attire. The best look when attending a trial is described as professional, accessible, and approachable. 

Not Practicing Realistic, Unpleasant Cross-Examination 

Some scenarios you should practice with your witness should include when opposing attorneys:

  • Use sarcasm
  • Begin yelling or raising their voice
  • Demand a yes or no answer 

Without witness preparation for these kinds of scenarios, your witness may react poorly, which can hurt your team’s credibility. You need to be able to familiarize your witness with ways they can respond in a professional and calm manner. 

Memorizing Answers 

While it is helpful to continuously practice with your witness, it doesn’t help very much to have them memorize answers. Their responses during examination and cross-examination should be authentic and natural. A jury and an opposing attorney can pick up on when a witness is simply speaking from their memory. That being said, when conducting witness preparation, it is helpful to ask different questions in each session. 

Scheduling Prep Sessions Too Early

When scheduling witness preparation sessions, you should be scheduling them throughout the upcoming weeks. You don’t want to schedule all sessions too early. Witness preparation should be fresh in your witness’s head prior to trial. With that being said, yes get ready early, but not too early on. 

Secure a Successful Trial with Help from Jonathan Leach 

Jonathan Leach provides several services in addition to witness preparation such as mock trials, shadow juries, and much more. All of these services are designed to help you prepare. You can get in touch with Jonathan Leach by calling (972) 890-8482, today.

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