8 Tips to Prepare For The Witness Stand

July 5, 2021

As a witness, you want to be prepared to testify and clearly present your evidence to the judge and jury. While explaining the facts clearly to one person may not be challenging, many people feel anxious about speaking in front of an entire courtroom. Witness anxiety is common as your credibility is being questioned at every turn. 

To help you survive cross examination, it can help to prepare yourself by following some cross-examination tips for witnesses so you know what to expect and the best way to handle challenging questions. 

In this post, we’ll offer eight tips that will help you prepare to testify as a witness in court so you can feel confident in your testimony and help you prepare for questions and a cross-examination afterward. 

1. Take Your Time

It is natural to feel some anxiety about testifying in court. Sometimes nerves can cause people to speak quickly, lose their temper or feel they need to rush through an answer. It is much better to slow down, take your time to fully listen to the question and then thoughtfully respond than to give a quick reply.  

2. Listen To The Full Question Being Asked

On the stand, some witnesses start to answer questions before the whole question has been asked. This anticipation can lead to misleading or false testimony. Listen to the entire question being asked, then take a moment to collect your thoughts and only answer that question.

3. Be Truthful

This may seem like an obvious answer, but it is crucial. When testifying, don’t embellish, argue or dodge questions to avoid unpleasant facts. Telling the whole, unblemished truth will make you seem more credible to the judge and jury. Sticking to the truth will also help you during cross-examination, where lawyers will do their best to find inconsistencies in your testimony. 

4. Don’t Speculate

If you are asked a question about particular facts and don’t know the answer, say you don’t know. Do not try to guess at the answer or speculate about what might have happened. You are there to speak about specific things you know. You do not have to provide answers for things outside your area of expertise. Guessing or speculating on facts can leave you open to cross-examination, looking to discredit your entire testimony. 

5. Ask For Clarification

You should never answer a question you do not fully understand. You can always ask to have the question repeated or rephrased in another way. When you understand the question, it is essential that you only answer the question that is being asked, not what you think the lawyer may be asking. If you have any doubts, ask for clarification, or you could find yourself providing false testimony. 

6. Be Cooperative on the Stand

It is important to cooperate on the witness stand and answer questions when asked, even when asked by an opposing lawyer. Having an attitude or allowing anger or other emotions to get the best of you on the stand will not help your credibility. 

Cooperation doesn’t mean you have to provide the answer that the lawyer wants to hear. Never be forced into making an inaccurate response. If you are asked a question based on an inaccurate assumption, you can also challenge the assumption instead of answering the question directly. 

7. Be Consistent

As a witness, it is  essential to be consistent with any earlier statements that you have given. Trial lawyers will try to find inconsistencies and pick holes in your statements to undermine your witness credibility, so be sure to review any earlier statements or writings before you take the stand. 

Your lawyer can help you prepare for this by reviewing earlier statements and going over questions that may be asked during cross-examination so you won’t be caught off guard. It can also be helpful to have a copy of your previous statement handy so that you can easily refer to it. 

8. Try To Relax

Testifying in court can be stressful, a thorough preparation before taking the witness stand can help you feel more calm and confident. Witnesses who appear relaxed and can communicate clearly and calmly with the judge and jury are more likely to be believed and feel more confident on the stand. 

If you are looking for help with a criminal trial, you need an expert lawyer with experience in trial settings and who understands how to prepare clients for trial. Willam Jaksa has over ten years of criminal defence experience in Toronto. Contact him today for a consultation on your case.

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