Q & A: What To Do In The Courtroom
My case is going to trial. What do I do? And what should I say?
We have prepared some suggestions. These suggestions are not legal advice. You will need to speak with an attorney at the Johnson Law firm about your case to get legal advice for your particular case.
- Suggestion 1. Tell the truth. No one expects perfection, but if you tell the truth you will not be tripped up on cross-examination and the judge will believe you.
- Suggestion 2. Do not guess. "I don't know" or "I don't remember" are acceptable answers, but guessing can get you into trouble on cross.examination. Remember.- there's a real difference between "No" and "I don't remember." For example, if you answer on cross that you don't remember whether something happened it means that it mayor may not have happened. If the event could not have happened, then your answer should be "No." If you are asked, "Isn't it true that you kept $20,000 in a safe deposit box?" the answer is clearly "No, that is not true," as opposed to "I don't remember."
- Suggestion 3. Be sure you have heard and understand the question. If you don not hear a question or do not understand it, do not try to answer based on what you think the question was. Instead, simply ask opposing counsel to repeat the question. Always wait for the lawyer to finish the question before beginning your answer. This may be difficult advice to follow. Remember, a question may actually contain several questions requiring several answers one at a time.
- Suggestion 4. Take your time. Use good judgment in answering questions. Consider every question and give it some thought, if necessary, but do not look like you are stalling for an answer.
- Suggestion 5. Speak loud enough for everyone to hear. Do not chew gum. Keep your hands away from your mouth. Remember that you must verbalize your answers, not just nod your head. The court reporter must write down everything you have to say.
- Suggestion 6. Look at the Judge. From time to time during your testimony, especially at important points, look the judge straight in the eye. Don not forget that the judge is the person who must be persuaded by what you have to say.
- Suggestion 7. Do not argue with op-posing counsel. Keep your composure no matter what the other lawyer or your spouse does. Never lose your temper or let them provoke you. The judge may excuse a lawyer who misbehaves in the name of zealous advocacy, but if you act out, it will affect your credibility. The ruling of the judge will usually reflect a definite dislike for the person who is angry or flippant.
- Suggestion 8. Be courteous. Say "yes, sir" or "ma'am" to opposing counsel, and if you must address the judge, use "Your Honor." Sometimes the other lawyer may interrupt you while answering. Let her finish the new question and then say: "Before I answer, I need to finish my answer to the last question."
- Suggestion 9. Do not make jokes or wisecracks. Remain a lady or gentleman at all times. Be honest, straightforward, and courteous. Watch the tone of your voice.
- Suggestion 10. If you hear an objection stop answering immediately and say nothing until the judge rules on the objection. "Overruled" means you must answer, "sustained" means you must not. Do not worry about remembering legal terminology. Either the judge or the lawyers will tell you what to do. Never interfere with dialogue between the judge and lawyers about objections or other matters.
- Suggestion II. Do not answer a question with a question. Opposing counsel is not on trial. Any combativeness toward that lawyer will irritate the judge.
- Suggestion 12. You must answer every question. Do not bother to ask your lawyer or the judge if you must answer a particular question; unless an objection is made and sustained, you must answer.
- Suggestion 13. On cross-examination, when you are being cross-examined the other lawyer will be asking you questions that, typically, require a "yes" or "no" answer. Remember -- that other lawyer is trying to get you to make statements that will hurt your case. Do not simply react to a question; it's important to think about your answers. Also, if the "yes" or "no" response that you give does hurt your case, the next words out of your mouth should be, "But can I explain?" The judge may allow you to explain your answer which will lessen or completely remove the damage that would have been done by a simple one word response.
- Suggestion 14. Be positive and firm in your answers. You know you are telling the truth and you are well- prepared, so do not be intimidated by the other lawyer. If you are worried about your answer, do not show it. Do not memorize what you are going to say. Memorized testimony is not believable.
- Suggestion 15. It's OK to cry. Don't be surprised if during your testimony you become emotional and cry. It can be upsetting to talk about personal matters in Court. The judge will understand, and, in fact, it may add to, rather than detract from your credibility. If you need a tissue, a drink of water, or a break to compose yourself, just ask the judge for permission.
- Suggestion 16. Remember that the judge is watching you. Not only during your testimony, but also at counsel table. Do not overreact during the testimony of other witnesses. Do not lose your temper. It doesn't make points with the Court, and it usually lessens the judge's respect for you.
- Suggestion 17. Write notes to your attorney during trial. If you want to communicate with your lawyer while someone is testifying, write a note. Do not nudge or whisper to your attorney. It may be possible to listen, read and write at the same time, but no one can listen to the witness, the lawyer, and the client all at the same time.
What if I have other questions?
You need to come in to the Johnson Law Firm and speak with an attorney. Nothing you read on this website is legal advice. You should not make any decisions unless you are advised by a licensed North Carolina attorney.
The Johnson Law Firm would like to thank Sullivan & Grace, P.A. for use of material.