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 said but also on how it is said. Just as in every day interactions, supportive body language and reinforcing nonverbal communication cues can be critical for effective communication in the courtroom.
Most police officers know that the key to providing effective testimony is to prepare fully and carefully by reviewing all documentation related to the case. In fact, becoming fully reacquainted with the facts is essential not only for the substance of the testimony but also for what will be conveyed through nonverbal communications.
Even with this level of preparation, testifying in court can be stressful, regardless of the type of proceeding. If the case is particularly contentious with aggressive cross-examination, testifying in court can be an uncomfortable and disconcerting experience. Further, if the officer has not had the time or taken the time to properly prepare, it will be that much more difficult to remain composed and testify in an objective and even-handed fashion. In fact, even if the officer successfully resists the temptation to verbally respond in a defensive or dismissive manner, the officer’s discomfort and ire may be observed through the various nonverbal communications, which may negatively impact the officer’s credibility.
Tip to testify: thorough preparation is the key to effective verbal and nonverbal communications in the courtroom.
The Honorable Earl G. Penrod is a Judge of the Gibson Superior Court in Indiana.