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 recorded and transcribed word-for-word. The predominant purpose of a deposition is to permit discovery of the facts and evidence of the case, but a deposition also is designed to memorialize the testimony of the witness and, in some cases, may be used in lieu of live testimony in court. Because of their frequency and purpose, depositions are extremely important to a case and an officer should be as careful in preparation for a deposition as for in court testimony.
Most police officers have little difficulty in recognizing and respecting the importance and seriousness of serving as a witness in a trial because of the formalized setting of a courtroom. However, depositions are typically in an office or conference room without a judge and with no one present other than the prosecutor, the defendant and defense counsel, along with a court reporter. In some jurisdictions, the potential importance of depositions may be belied by the relatively informal manner in which they are scheduled and conducted. In fact, the testimony elicited in a deposition may go a long way in determining whether a case will proceed to trial at all. Also, because the deposition is designed to assist in discovering the facts and evidence, questions may be more broadly based and less carefully structured than the
inquiries made during the trial. And because depositions are recorded and transcribed word-for-word, answers
given in a deposition may be brought up in trial to challenge the accuracy of the officer’s in-court testimony.
Tip to testify: An officer should understand the significance of testifying in a deposition, and should make certain to fully and carefully prepare in the same manner for a deposition as for in court testimony.
The Honorable Earl G. Penrod is a Judge of the Gibson Superior Court in Indiana.