Preparing witnesses for cross-examination is not easy. Most witnesses tend to ramble or struggle when it comes to recalling crucial details. Some witnesses might even stop talking once bombarded with a lot of questions. Hence, the preparation process becomes very crucial, especially for your case. Read more for a list of tips to help you prepare a witness for examination.
1. Practice Sessions
The best way to prepare a witness for cross-examination is to do a couple of practice sessions. Each session should involve asking questions in different ways to get the witness ready for whatever the opposing side may throw. If possible, it’s best if you can have another lawyer run the cross-examination while you serve as the opposing attorney raising objections to simulate a real trial.
It’s also helpful if you can give a witness some good resources like witness training courses to help prepare for the worst-case scenarios and aggressive cross-examinations which often include irrelevant questions. The witness should also understand the difference between a deposition and cross-examination.
2. Always Stick to Facts
The opposing counsel will try to throw a witness off guard. They’ll try to make you say something about a hypothetical theory they come up with or what the data suggests at hand. They may even force you to agree that what you just said was an outlier. You can avoid these pitfalls by having your witness always stick to the facts. Teach the witness to defend their statements using scientific evidence or simple explanations that are sound and accurate.
3. Answer the Question Asked
Your witness should also learn how to listen to questions carefully. Teach the witness to consider the scope of the question and possible related queries. This is especially true in cross-examinations where an opposing attorney will interview the witness. A witness should never give up information that wasn’t asked. It’ll only aid the opposing counsel in collecting additional facts to beat you on the court.
Additionally, your witness’ testimony during the cross-examination should never sound defensive so that their credibility while on the stand won’t be tarnished. Your witness’ answers should be nothing more, nothing less, and must be direct to the point.
4. Avoid Making Scripted Statements
Scripted statements are sometimes good as they can help guarantee that the witness shares crucial information. But there are also some cases when scripted answers can hurt your case, especially during cross-examinations. The opposing counsel as well as the jurors and judges may likely find out that your witness is lying and is only ready for pre-written statements. This is particularly bad for witnesses who rely too much on a script as they may panic when asked about questions not included in the script.
Instead, provide an outline for your witness as to what they should keep in mind when it’s their turn to speak. Emphasize key points so they won’t forget it and talk with them beforehand to figure out whether some topics require a bit more information before heading to court.
5. Stay Calm
Cross-examinations are not easy. You might feel like your witness fully prepared for it because you already had a couple of practice sessions beforehand. But regardless of how prepared your witness is, there might be an instance where they could still panic, especially if bombarded with a lot of questions.
One of the best advice you can tell your witness is to stay calm and to manage their stress level under pressure. A good witness should never take things personally. Cross-examiners will try to do their best to get under the witness’ skin. It’s their job to rattle people by catching you make a mistake or say an inaccurate statement. They’ll push a witness to the limits so the witness can commit a mistake and use it to uphold their side of the story in front of the jury.
Testifying in court is very stressful but staying calm and confident can help. Witnesses who appear on the court relaxed and confident can communicate soundly and has more chance to be believed by the jury and the judge.
A witness can make or break a case. How your witness answer questions when cross-examined also reflect your skills as a lawyer. So, you better make sure your witness is completely ready to be interviewed by the opposing side. With proper preparation, strategy, and execution, your witness can easily breeze through all the questions of a cross-examiner or attorney and positively affect your client’s case.