January 4, 2018
Testifying in court at a criminal trial can be a nerve-wracking experience. Not only are you speaking in front of people you don’t know, but you also might be aggressively cross-examined by an aggressive prosecutor. Fortunately, there are a few tips that can help you survive your time on the stand with flying colors.
Tip #1: Look Good
This is a visual culture, and people will form an initial impression in less than a second. If you’re a criminal defendant, then appearance is doubly important. Remember to dress as if you are interviewing for an office job, such as dress slacks and a button up shirt with dress shoes. Women have more options but should always make sure their clothes fit right and are pressed.
- Don’t skimp on grooming either. Remember to:
- Trim your hair and facial hair.
- Leave loud, flashy jewelry at home.
- Take a shower before coming to court.
A criminal defendant might not win the case based solely on their appearance, but they’ll help themselves immeasurably by looking their best.
Tip #2: Sit Up Straight
Jurors who slouch signal that they lack confidence and might be lying. If you’re the defendant, you might look guilty based on posture alone. When you sit at the witness stand, push your shoulders back and take a deep breath from your abdomen.
Tip #3: Think Before You Speak
You want to speak clearly, in complete sentences, and at a slow pace so that the jurors can hear you. If you speak too fast, then you might babble, become confused, or sound unintelligent. For these reasons, you should slow down and pause before you speak—particularly on cross-examination.
Make sure you understand the question and ask for clarification if you don’t. Then pause to gather your thoughts. Don’t take forever to answer—the judge will get upset at you. But pause for a couple seconds so that you can deliver a crisp answer.
Tip #4: Avoid Humor
Criminal trials are serious business and any attempt to be light-hearted will be misinterpreted as you disrespecting the proceedings. Furthermore, everyone’s humor is different. You probably find a comedian funny who is offensive to someone else. Jurors are the same way. Leave the jokes at home.
Tip #5: Don’t Guess
You want to be precise in your testimony. You also aren’t expected to know everything. If a lawyer asks you something you don’t know, simply admit, “I don’t know” or “I can’t remember.” Don’t guess because you might guess wrong, which will reduce your credibility in front of the jury.
Tip #6: Never Get Angry
If you’ve been charged with a violent crime, the prosecutor would love nothing better than for you to erupt in anger while on the witness stand. To get under your skin, prosecutors love to cut people off before they can give a complete answer or they try to intimidate you with a badgering tone.
To keep your cool, remember to take a couple deep breaths. Put your palms flat on your thighs and count to five in your head. Remember, you can throw off a prosecutor by refusing to get rattled, and a prosecutor who loses their cool will look terrible in front of the jury.
Speak With a St. Petersburg Criminal Defense Attorney
If you or a loved one has been accused of a crime, you may need to testify in court. An experienced St. Petersburg criminal defense attorney can answer any questions you have and alleviate any concerns. At Khonsari Law Group, we have decades of experience working in criminal courtrooms and preparing witnesses. Contact us at (727) 269-5300 for a free consultation.