Rule 7: Correct Your Mistakes
No one is perfect and we all make mistakes. If you state something that is inaccurate, correct your mistake the first chance you get. But make sure what you said was inaccurate. Obviously, try to keep mistakes to a minimum. And remember, if you do mess up, make sure you fess up.
Rule 8: Distinguish What You Know From What You Have Been Told
What a non-party to the case (i.e. neither the plaintiff nor defendant) tells you about something, it is usually hearsay and it can often be successfully objected to. What you directly hear or see with your own senses is generally not hearsay and usually cannot be objected to. In other words, you may not have to answer a question that is based on hearsay – as long as your lawyer objects to the question. You often will have to answer a question that is based directly on what you heard, saw, smelled, felt, or tasted. If this sounds confusing, don’t worry about it. "Hearsay" can be tricky to determine, and it often takes a seasoned lawyer to understand all the ins and outs of hearsay.
For purposes of this article, let’s go over a common example to illustrate what you know from what you have been told:
You are standing at the corner of an intersection waiting to cross the street. Suddenly, a car whizzes by you, knocks over a nearby mailbox, and continues down the street out of sight. You stand there in amazement because the car nearly hit you and you barely saw the car. Later that night a few of your friends tell you that the person in the car was Al Smith. On the stand, counsel asks you the following questions:
Counsel: Were you nearly hit by a car at the corner of the intersection?
Counsel: Who was in the car?
You: I do not know.
This is the proper response. If you had answered "Al Smith," that would have been hearsay – because you heard it from your friends. There are many exceptions and exemptions to hearsay, and so your lawyer can go over the relevant hearsay exceptions and exemptions with you before you testify.
Rule 9: Do Not Guess If Asked About Statistics
If opposing counsel asks you how fast the car was going in the above example and you didn’t see it, then say you didn’t see it. If you did see the car for a moment or two, in most instances you can make an educated estimate. But make sure to emphasize this point.
Counsel: How fast was the car going?
Witness: About 35 to 45 mph.
This is a good and fair response, as long as it reflects your best memory.
Rule 10: Take Your Time and Relax
Finally, relax and take your time. This will help you with all of the above rules, especially with Rule 4 - Think Before Answering. Do whatever you need to do within reason and remember to relax.
So, now you’ve been informed about the basics in being a good witness. The rest is up to you. For more information, links and sources, click to the next page.