Tips to Testify

//Tips to Testify

“Tips to Testify” is The Honorable Earl G. Penrod’s column of advice for law enforcement officers who interact with attorneys and courts in the course of their duties. His column appears in The LEL newsletter, which is published quarterly by the National LEL Program.

Tips to Testify: Standard of Proof

By Judge Earl G. Penrod LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICERS regularly testify in criminal matters brought by the government against an individual. Law enforcement may also be called upon to testify in a civil action, such as a lawsuit for personal injuries filed by one driver against another. In a number of jurisdictions, some traffic violations are [...]

Tips to Testify: Written Reports: Past Recollection Recorded

By Judge Earl G. Penrod THERE ARE TIMES WHEN AN OFFICER MAY testify in court many weeks, months or perhaps years following an event. As a result, it may be difficult for the officer to remember the details and circumstances surrounding the event. Fortunately, officers are trained to prepare detailed written reports at the time [...]

Tips to Testify: Lay Witnesses vs. Expert Witnesses

By The Honorable Earl G. Penrod MOST LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICERS WHO are called upon to testify are highly trained and skilled professionals. Through their education and experience, officers effectively assess and investigate a variety of circumstances and arrive at appropriate opinions and conclusions. However, during testimony, officers are sometimes surprised when they are prohibited from [...]

Tips to Testify: Pro se, Pro Per and Self-Represented Litigants

By The Honorable Earl G. Penrod MOST LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICERS appreciate that testifying in court is an important responsibility and merits proper preparation. Being examined and cross-examined by aggressive attorneys can be somewhat stressful, regardless of the nature of the case. Police officers also should anticipate and prepare for the special challenges and potential pitfalls [...]

Tips to Testify: Separation/Sequestration of Witnesses

By The Honorable Earl G. Penrod IN MANY TRIALS, witnesses are required to remain outside the courtroom during the case and are prohibited from hearing or discussing the testimony of other witnesses. A Motion to Exclude/Separate/Sequester Witnesses typically is granted at the beginning of the trial and witnesses are advised of the specific requirements in [...]

Tips to Testify: “May I Refer to My Notes?”

By The Honorable Earl G. Penrod TESTIFYING IN A TRIAL CAN BE STRESSFUL, especially when the proceedings are particularly contentious or hotly contested. As a result, even a well-prepared officer may have a momentary lapse in memory about some facts or circumstances. Sometimes, the officer’s temporary lapse could be remedied by examining an item or [...]

Tips to Testify: Yes Sir, Your Honor, Sir!

By The Honorable Earl G. Penrod LAW ENFORCEMENT PERSONNEL ARE aware of the importance of being respectful in court not only in actions but also in words. For example, in many courts, it is considered polite and proper for witnesses to use “yes sir/no sir” or “yes ma’am/no ma’am,” when responding to questions. Law enforcement [...]

Tips to Testify: “Wait Just a Second!”

By The Honorable Earl G. Penrod WITNESSES ARE OFTEN ASKED QUESTIONS about the timing or length of an event, and an unwary witness may be inadvertently tripped up or caught off guard. There are a number of common expressions used in informal communication referring to the passage of time that are not meant to be [...]

Tips to Testify: Objection: Hearsay!

By The Honorable Earl G. Penrod THE POPULARITY OF COURTROOM SHOWS on television has familiarized many people with the term “hearsay evidence.” However, far fewer people understand how the relatively complicated “hearsay rule” applies in court. Because the application of the hearsay rule may cause evidence to be excluded and may interrupt the flow of [...]

Tips to Testify: Compound Questions

By The Honorable Earl G. Penrod WITNESSES MAY BE ASKED TO respond to questions that are not particularly well crafted or are purposely structured to cause the witness difficulty in providing a straightforward answer, such as when questions are comprised of multiple parts. For example, “Officer, yes or no: isn’t it true that you have [...]

Tips to Testify: Preparing for Depositions

By The Honorable Earl G. Penrod APPEARING IN COURT AS A witness is only one method through which a police officer may be called upon to provide testimony. For many officers, it is far more common to provide testimony outside the courtroom in a deposition. A deposition is oral testimony given under oath that is [...]

Tips to Testify: Tone, Tenor and Timing

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 [...]

Tips to Testify: Preparing for Effective Verbal and Nonverbal Communication

By The Honorable Earl G. Penrod POLICE OFFICERS RECEIVE considerable training and instruction on how to be a good witness in court, and it has been my experience that officers understand the importance of testifying in a professional manner. Most police officers appreciate that their effectiveness as a witness depends not only on what is [...]

Tips to Testify: Just the Facts, Ma’am

By The Honorable Earl G. Penrod MANY AMERICANS ARE FAMILIAR with the line “just the facts, ma’am” from the classic television show “Dragnet.” Even though there is some real question as to whether Sgt. Friday ever said the specific line, the expression provides a great tip to law enforcement officers when considering how to be [...]