So you’ve been through an academy, completed your training and now have some years in the field. Sooner or later, you’ll observe something or make an arrest, then write a report about it and eventually end up in court to defend your findings. All the training in the world won’t help you if you get on the stand and freeze-up or demonstrate your lack of skills. Since you don’t do this job full time, here are a few tips to help make a courtroom visit less intimidating.
It may sound simple, but dress for the occasion. As a general rule dark colors help to enhance your credibility. Whether or not you’re in uniform (which is also always a safe option), make sure you look clean-cut, fresh and professional. And ladies, keep the bangles and over-the-top makeup for the weekends. If you have “sleeve” tattoos down both arms, I recommend you wear long sleeved shirts or a suit. There are lots of reasons to do it, just think about it.
Know where you’re going and how to get to the front of the courtroom without hesitation. In most cases, at least two attorneys, a judge and a dozen jurors are carefully watching you.
When you’re sworn-in, speak up and maintain eye contact with the jury. When you’re seated, sit up straight, answer the attorneys’ questions with a “Yes” or “No,” and again maintain eye contact with the jury — they’re the people you’re talking to. Make sure you exhibit a command presence, speak loudly enough to be heard easily, speak positively and send the message you know what you are doing.
Listen to the questions closely, and don’t try to finish them in your mind. Make sure you fully understand each question before you give a response. If you don’t understand, ask for clarification. Wait a heartbeat or two in case the prosecution has an objection, then give a short and complete answer. Don’t make hand gestures or nod, as that usually leads to the court reporter or judge asking you to answer audibly. If your testimony is going well, don’t get complacent and lapse into normal street conversation. You are testifying in a court of law, not at a backyard barbeque. However, be conversational and personable: simply tell the story clearly, understandably, objectively and without embellishment.
Keep your answers short. If you’re asked a question with a “Yes” or “No” answer, simply give the appropriate one. Don’t offer further explanation unless asked. Don’t become combative or argumentative. If the attorney is trying to intimidate you — wait a few seconds, take a breath and then respond. Stay cool and in control.
By Doug Sherman
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