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Advice to People Who are Going to Give Testimony

Here is the advice I gave and will continue to give to clients who are going to testify at a deposition or a trial.

Tell the Truth:

If your case can’t survive the truth coming to light, you should settle or dismiss it. Lying under oath is a felony.

Even if you don’t mind committing a felony to win a case, there are practical reasons to stick to the truth. First, the saying, “Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive, is accurate” Reality is a web of cause and effect, if you pull one string, it will pull a lot of other strings from their former position. If you lie, there are bound to be other things that also have to be true for your lie to stand up. Lawyers are good at finding how your lie can’t be true when the other facts connected to it are established.

It’s so much easier to keep track of the truth than it is to keep track of everything connected to a lie.

Answer the Question that Is Actually Being Asked and Not Something Else You’re Guessing the Questioner Really Wants to Know:

In everyday discourse, if someone asks you, “Do you have the time?” you naturally will answer, “11:15.” In a testimonial situation, there are three correct answers to this question, “Yes,” “No,” and “The time to do what?”

Question: “How many drinks did you have that day?” The only correct answer to that question is either, “none,” or a number, nothing else.

Answer the Question, the Whole Question and Nothing but The Question:

The interrogator is not your friend. Anything you say can be used against you. Nothing you say can be used in your favor. Also, information is a valuable asset in a court proceeding. Do not give it away. If the other side neglects to ask the right question, don’t do their job for them. Finally, if you volunteer information, that can open the door for the other side to cross-examine you or alert them about something else they should ask you about.

Do Not Guess if You Are Unsure About What Is Being Asked:

Ask for clarification, but do not go overboard. I did have one client who literally asked, “What do you mean by that?” every time she was asked a question. Doing that makes you seem stupid or deceitful.

Unless Your Lawyer Puts You on The Stand, Your Lawyer Will Probably Not Ask You Any Questions but If He or She Does, Pay Close Attention:

If your lawyer is going to put you on the stand, he or she will go over your testimony and give you appropriate advice.

I only asked questions of my clients in depositions if I thought they had misspoken and usually rephrased the question to alert the client as to what was wrongly stated. If you get a question, think hard about what you said and consider whether it was what you meant to say.

Finally, Think Before You Speak, but Don’t Overthink It:

You are being asked about what you know. If you don’t know something, say so. If you are unsure, say so. Don’t treat the process as a battle of wits. If you get asked a trick question, your lawyer should object. Pay attention, speak honestly, deliberately, and with conviction. The statements herein are general and may not apply to specific situations. If you have a specific legal issue, contact an attorney.

My law practice is devoted to issues of wills, trusts, probate, estate planning, and related fields. You may contact me any time at (661) 269-3505 or robplunkett@robplunkett.com. My office is in Lancaster, California.