Giving a Deposition

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A deposition witness needs to be prepared for both the testimony they will give and the manner in which the testimony will be presented. While the nature of each deposition will depend on a variety of factors, this section provides some general guidelines for deposition preparation.

What is a Deposition?

A deposition is the taking of verbal testimony of a witness under oath, before trial. The deposition testimony is recorded by a court reporter. In general, depositions are used to find out what the witness knows, to evaluate the witness’ credibility and effectiveness in front of a jury, and to preserve the witness’ testimony.

A deposition does not take place in court in front of a judge. Instead, a deposition is usually taken at one of the attorney’s offices. The parties that are generally present at a deposition are the witness being deposed, the witness’ attorney, the deposing attorney, and the court reporter. The other parties to a case also have the right to attend the deposition if they so choose. A deposition can last from fifteen minutes to several days, depending on the nature and complexity of the witness’ testimony and the underlying case.

Witness Testimony

You should always tell the truth at a deposition. Prior to a deposition, the deponent is sworn to answer questions honestly. You should answer every question honestly, even if you think the answer will hurt your case. In addition to being sworn to tell the truth, being dishonest at a deposition can damage a witness’ credibility and often can be used against the witness later in the case. You should readily admit facts that you know are true.

You should listen closely to each question to make sure you understand it before answering. You cannot give an honest and accurate response if you do not fully understand the question. It is your right to understand each question before answering. If a question is unclear, ambiguous, or confusing, you should tell the deposing attorney immediately. You should not make any assumptions about the question being asked. Be careful of compound questions that ask two or more questions at once.

While you should always be honest, you do not need to volunteer information. Do not give any more information than is required to respond to the question truthfully. If a question can be answered accurately with a “yes” or “no” response, do so. Do not exaggerate your responses.

If you do not know the answer to a question, then say so. You should not be embarrassed to admit that there is something you cannot remember. It is important that you do not guess or speculate. You can only testify about your own personal knowledge. Never speculate about what might have happened or could have happened. If you do provide an estimate, make sure that you say that it is an estimate.

If at any time you realize that you have given a wrong or inaccurate response, you should correct it immediately. If you have to interrupt the attorney, then do so.

If you do not recall certain information but you believe there is a document that would refresh your memory, you can ask to see the document before answering. It is better to take the time to look at the document and make sure you give an accurate response, than to give an inaccurate response without reviewing the document.

Attorneys will often ask witnesses what actions they took to prepare for the deposition. It is perfectly fine for you to have talked with your attorney about the facts of the case and your testimony.

If your attorney objects to a question or requests that a question be reread by the court reporter, you should assume that the question is important and make sure you carefully consider your response before speaking. If an objection is made, stop immediately and do not answer the question until you are directed by your attorney to do so.

Presentation of Testimony

The presentation of your testimony can be as important as the testimony itself. You should wear clean, neat clothes to your deposition and avoid unusual or excessive jewelry, unusual hairstyles, inappropriate clothing, etc. Attorneys often consider a witness’ attire and appearance in deciding whether the witness will make a good impression and be found credible in front of a jury.

Always be serious while you are giving testimony at a deposition. Do not get angry or lose your temper. Speak clearly and loudly enough to be heard. This is important so that the court reporter can accurately record your testimony. Always be polite, even if you are not treated politely by the deposing attorney. Do not try to be witty or sarcastic.

Do not rush your responses. Be sure to let the attorney finish each question before providing your response.

Be confident in your responses by giving positive and definite answers whenever possible. Statements like “I think,” “honestly,” or “to tell the truth” can weaken your testimony. Do your best to avoid nervous habits like fidgeting, biting your fingernails, etc.

If you need a break at any time during the deposition, just say so. Some attorneys may try to wear down the witness with the goal of getting the witness to say anything just to get the deposition over with.

It is perfectly normal to be nervous about giving testimony at a deposition. Just remember that all you are doing is telling the truth. A deposition is your opportunity to give your side of the story. Proper preparation can help reduce anxiety and make sure your testimony is complete, accurate, and effective.