10 Etiquette Tips for Testifying in Court
Anytime someone is called to the witness stand in a courtroom to testify, he or she is under scrutiny. The judge, injury or accident attorneys, jury, and attendees closely examine what you say and how you say it. Understanding the appropriate etiquette in the courtroom can alleviate nerves and give you the confidence needed to speak clearly and openly.
Whether you are anticipating your first or fifth role as a witness, here are some etiquette tips to prepare you for the experience:
- Dress appropriately. Come to court clean, well-groomed, and conservatively dressed. Stick with formal job interview clothing to the best of your ability. Wear dress pants, collared shirts, conservative blouses, and dresses/skirts that fall at a professional length.
- Act seriously and respectfully. Court is not the forum for speaking out of turn, laughing uncontrollably, or using slang terms or complex jargon. Wait patiently until you are called to the stand before you say anything about the case. Do not chew gum.
- Take a deep breath and tell the truth. You are on the stand to relate facts—not your opinion or an exaggeration. Listen to each question carefully and respond clearly and fully. If you need clarification, ask for it. You can respond by saying “I do not know” or “I do not remember.” Try not to ramble. If you need to take a moment to collect yourself, ask for it.
- Do not talk over someone in the courtroom. If the judge or an attorney starts talking during your testimony, stop talking for a moment. If you felt that what you had to say was important, ask to resume your statement after the person finishes.
- Answer questions. Avoid volunteering information unless an attorney asks for it directly. Answer each question honestly and completely, and avoid saying anything else. You do not need to talk for five minutes after each question. If a simple yes or no would suffice, then that is all you need to say.
- Remain calm. You cannot help anyone if you lose your temper on the stand. In fact, it could get you into trouble with the court and harm the credibility of your testimony. Show respect for everyone in the courtroom, even if you have strong feelings about the case.
- Modify your statement, if needed. We all misspeak on occasion. If you believe that your statement did not accurately reflect what happened, correct it as soon as possible. Ask if you can correct something that you said, and give a reason for the mistake. Getting flustered on the stand is perfectly normal.
- Avoid talking in absolutes. Unless you clearly remember something in detail and could not be mistake, avoid saying things such as, “That is everything that happened.” Human memory can be tricky. Use phrases such as, “That is what I remember from the event right now.”
- Prepare to answer all questions truthfully. You may have to answer a question about who you have spoken with about a case. Many witnesses have a gut reaction to answer, “No,” because they think that maybe they were not supposed to say anything. If you spoke with a police officer, other witnesses, or anyone else, say so. Tell the truth while you are on the stand, and do not worry about anything else.
- Remember that etiquette extends beyond the testimony. After you are excused, avoid saying anything about your time on the stand. Once a case is resolved, you can talk about what happened.
If you are testifying in court or in a deposition, you will have an opportunity to talk to your own attorney or the attorney who issued the subpoena before you have to appear. At Sweeney Merrigan, LLP, we work with our clients to ensure everyone involved is prepared to testify. Call our team for more information.