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Introduction – I am often asked for advice on the proper way to dress, act, and speak in court. Here is a list of just a few tips that will assist you in preparing for and acting properly in Court – H. Michael Steinberg – Colorado Criminal Defense Attorney
Judges and jurors start to get an impression of you the first time they see you. So dress up and dress conservatively. At a minimum, men should wear a shirt with a collar, trousers, and shoes.
No tank tops, T-shirts, shorts, sandals, or earrings, nose rings, lip rings, or hats. Women should wear a dress, long skirt / pants with dressy top, conservative makeup and hair color. NO bare midriffs, shorts, short skirts, loud colors, large or excessive jewelry, hats, tongue rings, nose rings or lip rings. Clean and well kept hair.
Be prepared. Before you go to court, think about the subject matter. Review all the notes and documents available. Talk to others who were present (BUT NEVER CONSPIRE TO LIE). Study maps or draw diagrams. Discuss your testimony with the lawyer who is calling you.
When you are called as a witness, proceed gracefully to the witness stand and face the judge or bailiff. You will be sworn in. Then you may be seated.
ALWAYS address the judge as “Your Honor”, or “Judge”, or say “Yes, Sir”, or “No, Sir”, in response to his questions. If it ia female judge – be careful – some judges do not like the word Ma’mn. While it is respectful – some judges think it is Ma’am is respectful- most women feel it means they are old when you say it. You’re better off using our honor or judge..
Trials and hearings take place in an adversary or competitive system of justice. The worst mistake witnesses make is to “chicken out” because they are anxious, intimidated, or want to be thought of as nice people.
TELL IT LIKE IT IS, WITHOUT HOLDING ANYTHING BACK. Be and act “honest.” Do NOT try to outwit the lawyer.. it always comes across as if you are hiding or lying about your answer.
The lawyer who calls you as his /her witness will ask you questions on direct examination. S/He is required to ask you OPEN ENDED questions. You have to carry the story to the judge or jury in response to who-what-when-where-why-how questions.
You will then be cross-examined by the opposing lawyer. In criminal cases, this is the prosecutor. The cross-examiner will ask LEADING questions. Leading questions are yes or no questions. They are intended to bring out negative information and will cause distress. Answer these questions “yes” or “no”. Not “yes, but…”. You want to be one who comes across as the truth teller. If the question is too confining or misleading, answer the question in one or two sentences. For example:
Q: You told the officer you had been drinking, didn’t you?
A: Sir, I told the officer I had one beer after work.
After the first round of direct and cross-examination, there is a shorter round of re-direct and re-cross examination. When your lawyer gets a chance to ask you questions again, make sure you explain what you were unable to explain in the cross-examination.
If you volunteer that you have always led a law-abiding life or have never got drunk, smoked pot or done anything wrong before, you will open the door to a devastating cross-examination if it is not exactly true. Stick to the facts. There is usually no reason for you to talk about your character.