Getting a witness to convince a jury or judge is an important part of winning your case. The theatrics of the courtroom demand that the witness is well prepared so that the opposing counsel does not have a field day out of having their way with your witness.
Most people will take the stand in a court of law at most two times in their life. That is why coaching a witness is important so that you prepare them to do what is expected of them. They have not done this before, and so you are the one to give them guidance.
Here are three mistakes to avoid when witness coaching.
Failing to inform your witness about hijacking tactics:
The courtroom makes use of psychology more than any other profession. An opposing counsel will seek to disarm the witness and force them into flight or freeze mode in an attempt to disable logical higher-level thinking. Since the witness is in survival mode, they are prone to messing up more. The main ways this is achieved are through humiliation, aggression, and confusion.
The witness cannot afford to be passive during a hijacking. It takes a lot of training to have the necessary grit and avoid taking the opposite counsels bait by avoiding triggers. It will take time to achieve this, but it’s better than seeing your witness melting on the stand.
Downplaying the importance of body language:
Being in the spotlight means that every minute thing that your witness says is judged harshly and strictly. The hawk-eyed opposing counsel, jury, and judge are looking for tale-tale signs to see if the witness is telling the truth. That is why the body language and tone of voice of the witness will be very telling to the audience. The words your witness says are measured by the body language that they portray.
Your witness must stay open and honest throughout the trial. Train your witness regularly until it is an ingrained habit, a second nature for them to behave in a way that supports their statement. Confidence is also key, as the witness needs to be absolutely sure of their statement and nothing else.
When talking, the witness needs to control the pace of their talking and speak slowly and articulately. They can pause and take a few seconds before responding or when looking at an exhibit. Slow answering prevents push and shoves from attorneys. It is also a good idea, to begin with, clear statements before adding a yes or no for yes and no questions.
Mixing up the facts from the affidavit or lying:
Usually, there are two types of witnesses, the lay witness, and the expert witness. A lay witness is an ordinary person testifying in regards to their personal knowledge or their life experience, while an expert witness testifies based on their qualifications or expertise in the field. The official sources for the witness testimony are the witness statements, stipulations, and exhibits that witnesses have reasonable knowledge of.
When it comes to testifying, the witness usually does so about the facts that have been stated or inferred in the records and sworn affidavits. The facts in the records bind the witness. This means that if the facts they testify contradict the recorded ones, the witness can be impeached from the stand. The witness is not bound by the statements of other witnesses and is, therefore, free to dispute what other witnesses testify.
If a witness does not know the answer or is not sure how to answer, they may ask the opposing counsel to repeat the question or simply state that they do not know or they cannot remember. This helps them not to negate their affidavit statements. Also, only provide answers to the question asked and not provide additional information, as that can open a wormhole of more questions.
The witness sways the court’s decision and favors either side and so it is important to make sure that your witness is fully prepared to take the stand and bring home the victory. With patience and training, it is possible to make a great expert witness for your case.