Work law enforcement or ME/C death investigations long enough and you will end up in court. Whether you are testifying in a criminal case or a civil proceeding, there are things you can do to prepare for testimony. Done correctly, you will leave the stand with your integrity and professional image intact. Done wrong, it can have a devastating and everlasting consequence on your career.
You should review your case several times before the trail and meet with the prosecutor and review your testimony. You need to mentally rehearse the case, going over the facts out loud. If need be, visit a courtroom and observe other trials in progress. If you have never testified before this can be helpful in relieving some anxiety of the unknown.
Long Before Court
Your summary report should be written in chronological order – of your investigation or involvement, in easy to understand language and not written in short code or police jargon. Be sure any words or phrases you use in your report you can explain later. Never use words you have to look up the meaning to while writing your report. It is doubtful you will remember the meaning on court day and will appear untrained or deceitful. Remember your “opinion” can never be reflected in your final summary report
On the Stand
Have the complete report with you at court; Autopsy – Toxicology – anything else related. Have well-organized, standardized, complete, and readable style for reports.
Your demeanor is critical during testimony. You should have a general attitude of confidence but not cockiness. You should remain composed, investigators convey an air of authority and respect with the general public just by virtue of your title and job. You do not need to add to that image further by cockiness.
- You should sit up straight.
- You need to sit close enough to the microphone so you do not need to lean ever every time you speak.
- Your material should be organized in front of you.
- You should look at the attorney questioning you and then switch eye contact to the jury when answering.
- You should be open, friendly and speak clearly and slowly.
- Listen carefully to each question and give a responsive answer.
- If you do not understand, ask the attorney to repeat the question.
- Keep sentences short and to the point.
- If you do not know the answer, you should simply state “I don’t know.”
- You should not try to bluff your way through a difficult question.
- You should not become defensive or dishonest.
- Do not preface your answers with such phrases as “I believe”, “I estimate”, or “to the best of my knowledge”. This can leave doubt in the minds of the jury or judge.
- You should not answer beyond the question.
Most citizens, including jurors, want to believe that the people they place their trust in, such as public safety employees, have their best interest in mind. Many people grant you the benefit of a doubt if given a credible reason to do so. But if a witness crosses a juror through dishonesty or flagrant disrespect, jurors will react negatively.