By The Honorable Earl G. Penrod
THE POLICE OFFICER AS A WITNESS should be mindful that regardless of the substance of what is said on the witness stand, the effectiveness of testimony depends to some degree on how the presentation sounds to the ear of the listener. Although some people have a naturally melodious and pleasant voice, all of us could benefit by improving the tone, tenor and timing of our verbal communications.
As to tone, a witness should be sure to speak in a pitch that is natural and comfortable. Although a deep, resonant voice may sound more authoritative to some, a person who does not normally speak in such fashion must be careful to avoid a dramatic shift in pitch during a vigorous cross-examination. Suffice it to say, it does not enhance credibility for a witness to sound like Darth Vader on direct examination but Alvin and the Chipmunks when pressed on cross-examination. In short, the officer should speak in a strong, clear voice in a comfortable tone.
As to tenor, the witness should be sure to convey the legitimate point and purpose of the testimony by sounding engaged and interested. A witness is helping present a narrative to the judge or jury and the officer’s voice must support the legitimacy of the specific testimony as well as the overall presentation.
An effective witness must be aware of the timing and pace of the testimony. Specifically, a witness must allow the questioner to completely finish asking the question and the witness should then pause briefly before answering. Further, witnesses should consciously try to slow down while testifying and be particularly careful to speak in a more measured pace when the testimony relates to something the witness says on a regular basis but may be unfamiliar to the listener.
Tip to testify: Effective testimony depends not only upon what is said but how it sounds: tone, tenor and timing.
The Honorable Earl G. Penrod is a Judge of the Gibson Superior Court in Indiana.