When legal battles are portrayed on television, witnesses usually find themselves facing a harsh barrage of questions by passionate attorneys while sitting in a witness box. In reality, if you are ensconced in a legal situation, these questions may come sooner than you think. Prior to stepping foot in a courtroom, many plaintiffs and defendants come face-to-face with opposing counsel, answering questions while a court reporter transcribes their every word. These are depositions, a critical part of the discovery phase of litigation.
Depositions consist of an attorney questioning a witness, under oath, while a court reporter writes down and records what is said. Depositions are often videotaped, and usually take place at an attorney’s office. They provide attorneys with factual knowledge, insight into the strengths and weaknesses of a case, and knowledge of how a witness will testify at trial. They can be used in court for trial testimony or to impeach a witness.
Most people who are not parties to the litigation (named as plaintiffs or defendants) will not willingly attend a deposition, so attorneys will obtain a subpoena to guarantee their appearance. Plaintiffs and defendants have to appear even without a subpoena. If you are involved in a civil suit, you and the opposing party may attend the depositions of all witnesses.
Are you anticipating being deposed? Here are certain tips to remember:
- Tell the truth. You should always assume that the attorney already knows what the truth is, and being caught in a lie will take away your credibility as a witness.
- Don’t answer too quickly. Carefully consider the question and your answer before you say it aloud, as everything you say will be written down.
- Do not guess. If you don’t know the answer, simply state that you do not know.
- Do not offer additional information. For example, if an attorney asks if you were at a location on a certain date, an appropriate “yes” or “no” will suffice. It may severely hurt your case to launch into why you were at the location, what you were doing, who you were with, and other information that attorney should discover on their own.
- Remain calm- do not let the opposing attorney see that he or she can unnerve you.
Listen to your attorney. Your legal counsel will have experience with depositions and will guide you through the process.