Law Enforcement Testimony
- TELL THE TRUTH. Honesty is the best policy. Telling the truth requires that a witness testify accurately as to what he knows. If you tell the truth and are accurate, you have nothing to fear on cross-examination.
- Condense your professional resume onto a 3x5 card and bring it to court with you each time you receive a subpoena. On it, include your P.O.S.T. certification dates, classes taken as a law enforcement officer, and other special awards or permits you have. If a certification card was issued to you, bring that as well.
- READ YOUR INCIDENT REPORT before you go to court. Go over the details in your mind so that you will have an independent recollection of the events of the arrest. DO NOT go to court and ask the prosecutor for a copy of your report. However, do ask, prior to court, if you cannot locate a copy of your report.
- Dress neatly and professionally; leave sunglasses, flashlight, and other cumbersome equipment in your car before going into the courtroom, unless needed for a demonstration. Wear a coat and tie if you prefer and your agency allows it.
- Do not guess the answer to any question. It is OKAY to say “I don’t know” or “I can’t remember” in response to questions. Do not give the impression that you are guessing the answer by prefacing your response with “I think” or “I believe.” If you do not know the answer, it is okay to look at your report and refresh your memory. Always give definitive, positive, sure answers.
- Listen carefully to the question asked. Do not begin your answer until the prosecutor (or defense attorney) has finished asking the question. Be sure you understand the question before you attempt to give an answer. If necessary, ask that the question be repeated or rephrased if you do not understand it.
- Take your time. Do not feel pressured to give a quick answer. After a question is asked, there may be an objection; allow this to happen. When you hear the word “objection,” stop testifying until told you can continue.
- Answer the question that is asked, and then stop. Do not volunteer information not asked for, or you will risk causing a mistrial (the judge ending the trial before it has reached a verdict) or even an immediate acquittal. DO explain an answer, if you feel your answer might appear ambiguous to the jury. You are always permitted to explain your answer. Prior to your testimony, tell the prosecutor anything you feel he might not – but needs to – know.
- Be serious in the courthouse. Jurors are aware that criminal prosecutions are serious business.
- Speak clearly and loudly so that you can be easily heard.
- At least occasionally, make eye contact with the jury when testifying (unless directed not to, as is the preference of some judges), even when the attorney asking the question is not standing near the box.
- Always be courteous, even when the defense attorney is not. Control your temper, and never allow yourself to be drawn into an argument. Remember, the best way to make a good impression with the jury is to be courteous and professional. You were just doing your job during the arrest, and you do not have a personal stake in the case.
- Testify in straightforward language. Do not say “The perpetrator exited the vehicle” when in reality “the defendant got out of his car.” The person on trial is never a “lady” or “gentleman,” but is always “the defendant.” Do not use military times without clarifying the time in layman’s terms. Do not use call signals. Your testimony makes more sense to the jury when you speak the same language they do.
- It is permissible and desirable to discuss the case with the prosecutor before trial. A defense attorney may ask this question; tell the truth. Obviously, a prosecutor will try to discuss the case with the witnesses before trial; be straightforward in answering this question.
- A defense attorney will always ask whether you have an independent recollection of the case. That is, aside from your police report or other notes, do you remember the event? Any fact that you remember about the stop and/or arrest of the defendant would be sufficient to answer this question positively.