Está en la página 1de 22

Professor Moses'

Courtroom Etiquette and Demeanor
for Trial Advocates
copyright 1995-2014 Ray Moses
all rights reserved

"As an officer of the court, defense counsel should support the

authority of the court and the dignity of the trial courtroom by strict
adherence to codes of professionalism and
by manifesting a professional attitude toward the judge, opposing
witnesses, jurors, and others in the courtroom."
Standard 4-7.1(a) - Courtroom Professionalism
Justice: Prosecution and Defense Function
See also, ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct
Etiquette: A body of rules governing the way in which people behave
ceremonially, and in public life.
For an amusing glimpse of courtroom demeanor gone awry, look at
The Three Stooges'
gambits in Disorder in the Court.
Just when you least expect it - courtrooms gone wild!! (1) (2) (3) (4)
(5) (6)
Success in the courtroom and life itself comes from a combination
character, competence, and commitment.
"There's one other reason for dressing well, namely that dogs
respect it,
and will not attack you in good clothes."
Ralph Waldo Emerson

Here are my suggestions to law students studying trial advocacy and to new lawyers
concerning how you should conduct yourself in court.
1. Respect the Rules of the House. Find out the do's and don't's of the court you'll be
practicing in, and follow them. Your client, your witnesses, and your colleagues need to
be advised of some of these pet peeves. Every judge has likes and dislikes. A few have
rules that are downright persnickety, but most make good sense. For example, all
judges want everyone to turn off cell phones and pagers while court is in session; some
judges cannot abide any background noise from talking lawyers while the judge is trying
to take a plea; some judges are very protective of their privacy and don't want visitors
when the door to their chambers is closed; some judges don't want prosecutors
bargaining on probation revocations, the judge considering this a contract between the
defendant and the court; some judges get very perturbed by lawyers who wait until the
last minute to raise housekeeping issues that keep prospective jurors waiting in the
hallway; many judges are sensitive to discourteous conduct or bickering between
opposing lawyers; most judges don't want anyone, including lawyers, reading
newspapers or magazines in the courtroom; they don't want anyone bringing edibles
into the courtroom; they don't want anyone propping their feet on tables, chairs, or
benches; they don't want lawyers sitting on tables, railings, desks, or arms of chairs;
they don't want people wearing headgear or hats, including baseball caps, in their
courtrooms; they don't want lawyers leaning on the bench; they don't want lawyers
referring to parties or witnesses by anything other than their last names, e. g. "Mr.
Ames," "Dr. Burns." ln rural areas, judges may not want to hear how things are done in
the big city. Almost all judges are very put off by lawyers interrupting them or opposing
counsel. (Let the judge and, unless you need to protect the record, your opponent finish
before getting your two cents worth in.) With regard to trials, most judges want you to be
able to opine how long it will take to try the case, whether you have scheduling conflicts,
whether you anticipate filing motions prior to trial, whether there is a possibility of
settlement and whether there are anticipated problems that need to be resolved prior to
trial. Many judges prefer that you premark your exhibits; some require that you file an
exhibit list with the court. Most judges do not want you to argue your objections or
respond to the other side's objections in the presence of the jury. Normally only one
attorney for each party will be permitted to examine or cross-examine any one witness,
and the lawyer who examines or cross-examines is typically the lawyer who will be
permitted make and respond to objections. i.e., no double-teaming on examination or
objections. Many judges prefer that you not make substantive motions, e.g., motion for
directed verdict, in the presence or earshot of the jury. In cases involving expert
testimony, many judges do not want the proponent of the witness to ask the judge to
declare the witness an expert; instead the judge prefers to leave it to the opposition to
either object to the expert witness' competence or ask to voir dire the purported expert
witness re his/her qualifications; only if the opposition raises an objection to the witness'
qualifications to testify as an expert will the court be willing to rule that the witness is
qualified. Many judges have minimal dress codes for lawyers and defendants. Some
judges insist that you have a written motion for continuance prepared and filed if you are
going to announce "not ready." Some will require the parties to get together in advance
of trial and determine which exhibits will involve evidentiary challenges, i.e., those to

which admissibility is not stipulated. Some will require regarding opening statement that
counsel request and obtain prior court approval before introducing topics that may have
a significant potential for unfair prejudice. Some will require that counsel meet and
confer prior to the deadline for submission of instructions and make a good faith effort to
agree on the submission of all non-standard instructions. Some courts require that each
requested instruction be submitted on a separate sheet of paper. Most judges will not
want you to initiate any sort of substantive, case-related ex parte (out of the presence of
opposing counsel) conversation about the case with the court. Trial judges frown (no
pun intended) on lawyers and others who may exhibit facial expressions, head shaking,
or guttural approval or disapproval of transactions or testimony elicited from a witness.
Pretrial and peri-trial contact with jurors outside of court is prohibited everywhere.
Similarly, all judges do not allow you to address a juror by name after voir dire is
complete. To avoid improper currying of favor, most judges prefer that you make
suggestions regarding comfort of the jury out of the jury's presence. The list can go on
and on. It will vary in each jurisdiction and with each judge. In addition to using your
common sense, it's up to you to ask around and find out the likes and dislikes of your
particular trial judge.
2. Check Out the Venue. Visit the unfamiliar courtroom. Check out lines of sight from
the witness box, the jury box, the bench, the lectern (podium), and counsel tables. If you
think that counsel tables need to be rearranged for the sake of fairness, do not move
them without obtaining the court's permission. Get a feel for the acoustics . If your
exhibits will take up space or if you are carting electronic presentation gear, find out if
the court opens early and where you can store your exhibits and/or presentation
equipment. Note the location of electric power outlets and lighting controls. Determine
who (usually the bailiff) handles the courtroom lighting. Determine what sort of
presentation equipment, e.g., flipcharts, video monitors, screens, the court supplies and
what you need to do to reserve desired equipment. (If you don't reserve the court's
equipment, nine times out of ten, it won't be available when you need it.)
3. Be Punctual. Don't Waste the Court's or Jury's Time. Be Candid with the
Court. Being Punctual: Better an hour too early than a minute too late! Be so punctual
that the judge can predict the rising and setting of the sun by your comings and goings.
Or, as a judge once told me, "Mr. Moses, if you can't be on time, be early!" Tip: When in
trial, make it a habit to get to court before your opponent every day. Your adversary will
perceive you as ready and confident. Wasting Time: Don't keep the court waiting. If you
are going to be tardy for a court appearance, call the court and provide your reasons for
being tardy. Tell the court when you will arrive. Don't waste the court's time. Delaying
tactics will irritate the court. Judges are concerned with keeping their dockets moving.
Trial engagements typically take precedence over any other business. So, if you have
matters in courtrooms other than the one in which you are trying a case, make other
arrangements in advance for handling of those matters. If you can, save the court some
time, e.g., by premarking your exhibits in advance of the court session, by having your
witnesses ready to testify, by having orders prepared in advance for the judge's
signature, by providing a bench brief regarding key evidentiary rulings, by having all
documents about which you intend to question a witness readily available when you

start the examination etc. If you anticipate that oral argument will be required for an
evidentiary ruling or to resolve some other issue during the trial, alert the court so the
matter may be heard either before the jury arrives or after the jury has been dismissed
for the day. Most importantly, the jurors have volunteered their time for negligible pay.
Their time is valuable to them. Don't ever engage in dilatory tactics and needless
repetition that makes clear that you are wasting their time. If you waste the jurors' time,
you will lose their goodwill.Candor: Do not make false statements of law or fact to the
4. Be Well Groomed, Well Dressed, and Dignified. The same goes for your client,
your witnesses, and your co-counsel. Of course, every lawyer recognizes that you don't
persuade jurors simply by pointing a suit at them. But, it's a start. People often judge
from appearances; jurors and judges are people.
5. Maintain and Attitude of Confidence, Politeness, and Courtesy to All Court
Personnel and Opposing Counsel. It helps to have the court staff, e.g., clerk, bailiff,
court reporter, etc, on your side. Have a pleasant expression on your face when deal
with the court staff. Be nice. Be likeable. Don't be condescending, arrogant or cocky.
Treat opposing counsel in a civil and courteous manner, but do not ever let the jury think
that you have a cozy relationship with the other side. Avoid disparaging remarks and
acrimony. Abstain from sidebar remarks, i.e., disparaging comments or remarks, not
addressed to the court, made while opposing counsel is questioning or making a jury
speech. Don't make comments expressing your personal opinion. Don't attribute bad
motives or improper conduct to the opposition, unless you have proof. Stay in control of
your emotions. Even if opposing counsel is a jerk, don't be confrontational unless it
advances your case, e.g., when a prosecutor has suppressed evidence favorable to the
defense. The cardinal rule: Don't get angry, except on purpose.
6. Prepare Complicated Stipulations in Writing Before You Present Them in
Court. Don't make an offer or request for a stipulation in front of the jurors unless you
have vetted it with the opposition in advance of the request or offer. When you have
reached an oral agreement concerning stipulations, exchange drafts with the opposition
and cooperate in reducing it to writing. As general rule, do not offer any stipulation,
unless opposing counsel (and the defendant) has agreed to the stipulation and it has
been reduced to writing. In a criminal case, neither side has the duty to stipulate to
relevant evidence, even though the evidence may not be vigorously disputed. When you
do think about stipulating to witness testimony, recognize that there are two types of
stipulation. First, you may stipulate that if any absent witness were present his/her
sworn testimony would be thus and so. Second, you may stipulate not only to the
testimony that the absent witness would provide but also to the truth and correctness of
that stipulated testimony. In the former situation, the credibility of the source of the
stipulated testimony and the truth and correctness of that testimony is still at issue. In
the former situation, credibility and correctness is not in issue because the truth and
correctness of the stipulated testimony is no longer in issue. If the other side has the
burden of proof on the issue covered by the stipulation, you are much better of in
stipulating to the testimony but not the truth of it. If you have the burden of proof on the

issue, try to get the opposition to agree not only to the stipulated testimony but also to
the truth and correctness of it. Tip: If the defendant in a criminal case is stipulating to
testimony in either situation, the prosecution should ensure that the court admonishes
the defendant regarding his constitutional rights to subpoena, confront, and crossexamine witnesses and obtains a knowing waiver (1).
7. Be Ready with Grounds for Your Objections. Try to anticipate possible objections,
the grounds for them, and the probable responses. When you do object in the presence
of the jury, make your objection timely and specifically to the point. Cite the Rule of
Evidence and/or the common designation, e.g., "inadmissible hearsay" for your
objection. Don't argue the objection without court approval, and, even then, argue at
sidebar. Don't argue with the ruling of the court in the jury's presence. For more
see Objections.
8. Request the Use of Easels, Chalkboards, Document Cameras, Video Monitors
and Recorders, Projectors, Screens, and Other Equipment Well In Advance So
That They May Be Set Up While the Court Is Not In Session. Don't waste the jury's
time. If you are going to display evidence, be certain that the medium of display is ready
for your use. If you are using an electronic medium, always have a hardcopy backup in
case of power failure. If you plan to use a demonstrative aid that requires a special
display medium, let the court know in advance what you are going to do.
9. Stay Out of the "Well" Unless You are Given Permission. The "well" is the area
between the judge's bench and the counsel tables. Judges typically insist that this area
be kept clear of movement of people, unless permission has been obtained to enter it.
Permission to move into the well is gained by asking the court, e.g., " May I approach
the witness?" or "May I approach the bench?" or "May I have the reporter mark this item
for identification as State's Exhibit No. 1?" or "May the witness step down and approach
the chalkboard?" If you don't know the custom of the court regarding position and
movement during opening statement and jury argument, as a matter of housekeeping
you may want to inquire of the court out of the jury's presence, "Your Honor, do we have
permission to move about the well during opening statement and jury argument?" Note:
In actual practice, you may find that while all judges will require leave of court to
approach the bench, many will allow you to approach the witness without leave of court
whenever necessary to show the witness a tangible item of evidence.
10. Stand When the Judge or Jury Enters or Leaves the Courtroom. Stand when
court is opened, recessed, or adjourned. Do the same when the jury enter the
courtroom or begins to exit the jury box. Remember to tell your client and witnesses to
do the same. (1) This is a basic gesture of respect for the referee and/or the decisionmaker.
11. Stand When Addressing the Court, Being Addressed By the Court, Objecting
and Responding to Objections. Always stand when speaking to the court, being
spoken to by the court, objecting, and responding to objections. Those who do not stand
when addressing the court, e.g., making or responding to an objection, will sometimes

have their words ignored by the court. When you don't stand, the judge may imply
ignore you or say, "I can't hear you, counsel." - meaning that your words to the court
won't be heard as long as you remain seated.
12. Be Respectful in Your Public Requests, Comments, and Dealings with the
Court. Adopt a formal approach that reflects courtesy and respect for the authority of
the court. Common phrases that are used when communicating with the judge include
the following: "May it please the Court," used as the greeting at the outset of your
opening statement and your opening argument; "With Your Honor's leave (or
permission), I would like to, " used when seeking permission to do something; "As the
court pleases," "Very well, Your Honor," and "So be it, Your Honor" - used when you are
acceding (consenting) to an unobjectionable oral direction or order of the court. "As the
Court well knows," used when you are getting ready to educate the judge about
something s/he probably doesn't know. Don't interrupt the judge. Listen to what the
judge says. The judge has considerable discretionary power that can be used to help
you or hurt you, even in jury trials where s/he serves only as the referee. Something as
nebulous as the judge's tone of voice in ruling on objections can influence the juror's
perceptions of your credibility. In jury trials, treat the judge as though s/he was the
foreperson of the jury. Every judge has quirks. In some locales, there are published
Judge's Bench Books that describe the peculiarities, predilections, and requirements of
each local judge. These may be useful reading if you are not personally familiar with the
way a certain judge runs his or her court.
13. Avoid Too Many Bench (Sidebar) Conferences. Jurors Don't Like to Feel Left
Out of the Loop. Try to anticipate the necessity for rulings and discuss them when the
jury is not seated. You can often smooth the road by using pretrial motions in limine.
Once trial has started, you should seek to resolve sensitive matters before court the jury
is brought into the courtroom. If prejudicial publicity is an issue you may want to seek
anen camera hearing before the court. Jurors are suspicious of the motives of attorneys
who keep them from hearing everything that's going. When a bench or sidebar
conference is unavoidable, seek permission from the court before approaching the
bench or sidebar. Rather than saying, "May we approach the bench, Your Honor?",
consider gilding the phrasing of your request in a way that will appeal to the judge, e.g.,
"Your Honor, I need some guidance from the court. May we approach?." The upside of
approaching the bench is that sensitive comments made at the bench conference or
sidebar are out of the jury's earshot, and the trip to the bench or sidebar does give you a
few precious moments to think about what you are going to say when you get there.
14. Talk in the Third Person When Referring to Conduct or Requests of the Court
and/or Opposing Counsel. Talking in the third person means that when speaking to or
about the judge you refer to the judge as the "court" rather than as "judge so-and-so",
e.g., "Would the Court entertain a request for a brief recess?" and refer to the lawyer on
the other side as "opposing counsel" rather than by the lawyer's name, e.g., "Would the
Court instruct opposing counsel to provide us with a copy of the witness' prior written

15. Address All Remarks to Opposing Counsel Through the Court. Do not speak
directly to opposing counsel, except for perfunctory matters of courtesy. If you want
opposing counsel to do something, ask the court to ask opposing counsel to do it, e.g.,
"Would the Court ask opposing counsel to furnish us with a copy of the bench brief that
she provided to the Court?" Use the court as your intermediary, e.g., "Your Honor, we
would ask that the prosecution provide us with a copy of the witness' statement
pursuant to Rule 615 TRE." Don't turn and address or question opposing counsel
directly, even when opposing counsel makes sidebar remarks. If you need to confer with
the opposition while the jury is in the box say, "Your Honor, may we have your
permission to confer with opposing counsel for a brief moment?'
16. In Some Trial Courts You Must Question the Witness from a Seated Position at
Counsel Table, Unless You Have Been Given Permission to Be On Your Feet. In
Texas and in many federal courts, it is customary for trial lawyers to question witnesses
while counsel is seated at counsel table. Of course, there are circumstances when you
will be given permission to question while standing, e.g., when you need to show a
witness an exhibit. In some courts with modern evidence presentation consoles
equipped with a podium (lectern) clustered with an evidence camera and projector, a
telestrator, a video replay unit, a printer and computer terminals, counsel may question
from the lectern housing this equipment. Also, there is nothing to prevent the court from
allowing you, upon request, to move about the courtroom while questioning a witness.
In Texas, TRE 611(a) gives the trial court the power to control the mode of questioning
witnesses. In many jurisdictions, e.g., Florida, Massachusetts, it is common for counsel
to question from a lectern. One caveat, if the court allows you to move about the
courtroom, don't crowd the jury; respect the juror's space, understanding that jurors are
not free to leave their seats at will. [Note: When dealing with a witness on cross-examination, you
will have more authority with the witness if the witness perceives that you control the courtroom space. It
helps to be on your feet. Try to plan your cross-examination so that you move toward the witness with
exhibits that you touch. When you freely move about and the witness is confined to the witness chair, you
will have enhanced your control over that witness.]

17. Do Not Thank the Court for Its Ruling, No Matter Whether the Ruling Is In Your
Favor Or Not. Don't thank the court for ruling for you or against you. If you thank the
court for ruling in your favor, the court may resent the implication that it is biased in your
favor. If you thank the court for ruling against you and the jury understands that the
ruling was against you, expressing your gratitude makes you look stupid. If you try to
fool the jury into believing that the court was ruling for you by thanking the judge, you
will probably be caught in your deception.
18. Do Seek a Lifeline or Parachute Line from the Court When a Brain Cramp
Causes You to Temporarily Lose Your Train of Thought, Saying, "May I Have a
Moment, Your Honor?" or "Would the Court indulge me for a moment?" At some point
in your career as a trial lawyer, you will need to seek help from the court because your
brain has shut down temporarily. It will happen eventually. For some reason, lawyer
brains take a brief holiday during periods of courtroom stress. We call it losing your
train of thought or going brad dead. When this happens, remain calm, don't blanch or
revert to bed-wetting. You may decide to camouflage your predicament by pretending to

clean your spectacles or getting a drink of water or taking out your pen and scribbling
or rummaging among the papers on your table. All of these stalls may provide the few
seconds you need for your brain housing unit to kick in. But there is an easier way.
Simply say those magic words, "May I have a moment, Your Honor?" This is the
international distress call between lawyers and judges, and even the most difficult
judges will honor it. Another variation is, "Will the court indulge me for a moment?" You
may want to disguise your request by adding "I want to be sure to get this exactly right."
The judge will almost always give you a few seconds to get back on track. Why?
Because the judge probably suffered a few brain cramps in his/her career as a trial
lawyer and sympathizes with you. Use the garnered moment to gather your thoughts
together, and proceed when ready.
19. Don't Quarrel With Opposing Counsel or the Court. The most obvious sign of an
aggressive rookie advocate is the propensity to quarrel with the court and opposing
counsel about everything. Don't do it. In quarreling, stature is lost. Make a pact with
yourself to avoid making disparaging or acrimonious remarks to or about opposing
counsel. Be assertive rather than aggressive in your conversations with the court and
the opposition. It does your cause no good to engage in undignified or discourteous
conduct that is degrading to the court or opposing counsel. There is a difference
between quarreling with the court and counsel and standing up for your position by
making valid legal and factual arguments with regard to objections and responses.
Effective argument is part of what you are being paid to do. You aren't paid to whine. If
you want to argue a point with the court, ask if you may be heard.
20. When Your Opponent Blunders, Don't Rejoice, But Don't Pick Him Up
Either. Always be civil to the opposition. Recognize that the trial is a contest. When the
opposition falters or blunders, do not gloat, thrill, or rejoice. On the other hand, do not
save the opponent from the jaws of defeat. If opposing counsel is proverbially digging
himself into a hole, let him keep digging.
21. Deal with the Non-Responsive Witness Without Asking the Court to Help You.
Let the Court Volunteer to Admonish the Witness. When you run into a nonresponsive witness, get control of the witness and demonstrate that the witness is
ducking your questions and answering unasked questions. As a general rule, don't ask
the court to do your dirty work. Try to avoid the usual practice of beseeching the judge
to admonish the witness to answer the question, e.g., "Would the Court please instruct
the witness to listen to the question that I ask and to answer that question without
adding gratuitous thoughts?" Instead, deal with the witness yourself. You can learn how
to deal with the non-responsive witness without having to seek help from the judge.
Various techniques for getting control of the non-responsive witness are detailed in the
monograph, Cross-Examination in Criminal Cases and
the CrossExamination page. If you are skilled, you won't need the judge's help with the witness
who doesn't want to answer the question. If the witness simply refuses to be corralled,
the judge will usually volunteer to rein him in. Accept the court's help, but don't ask for it.

22. Don't Ask the Court to Sanction Your Opponent. You appear weak when you ask
the court to punish your opponent. It's better to punish your opponent personally. How
do you level the playing field? Outlawyer 'em!
23. When You Want the Jurors to See an Exhibit, Ask to Have It "Passed" to the
Jury of "Displayed" for the Jury. Leave Out the Stuffed-Shirt Word "Publish." In
my trial advocacy course, don't say, "May this exhibit be published to the jury?" This
prissy language, fostered by law schools and now appearing commonly in court, is too
over the top for me. Use plain and simple language that jurors understand and say,
"May this exhibit be passed (or displayed or shown) to the jury?" [Note: If, when dining,
you are the type who asks your dinner partner to "publish the mashed potatoes,"
disregard this suggestion.]
24. When You Want the Jurors to See Something Favorable that is Happening in
Court Make Sure that All the Jurors Can See If something of favorable importance to
your theory of the case is happening in court, make sure that all the jurors can see.
Simply say to the court, "Your Honor, we'd like to be sure that all the jurors can see this
(describe the demonstration or thing, e.g., 'this demonstration' or 'this scale model'.)" or
"Your Honor, will you inquire of the jury whether everyone can see?" You'll solve the
problem. The added benefit is that you have alerted inattentive jurors that they should
be observing these upcoming proceedings with care.
25. Don't Ever Pass an Item of Evidence Directly to a Jury Member. Once you have
the okay from the judge to have the exhibit passed to the jury, give the item to the court
bailiff; one of whose jobs is to pass and retrieve evidence to and from the jurors . Do not
ever pass anything directly from your hand to a juror's hand. [This is consistent with the
general rule that under no circumstances are you to attempt to communicate in any
manner, other than in open court during the trial, with any member of the jury prior to
receipt of the verdict and release of the jurors by the court. Note that some jurisdictions,
e.g., federal, place very severe restrictions upon post-trial contact between lawyers and
26. Don't Echo (Parrot) or "OKAY" the Witness' Answers. These are both common
phenomena among inexperienced lawyers. Echoing (parroting) is simply repeating the
witness' favorable answer before you ask your next question. It's an unsophisticated
effort to use the figure of speech know as repetition as a mode of persuasion. The much
preferred technique of repetition is to simply loop a favorable answer into your next
question. The most difficult habit to avoid is the "OKAY'" syndrome. Odds are that you
will find yourself unconsciously saying "Okay" immediately after the witness answers
your question. If you are desperately in need of self-assurance, you will say "Okay" as
a response to almost every answer that you get on direct examination. The best way of
curing yourself of parroting and the loathsome and distracting addiction to the word
"Okay" is to watch yourself doing it on video. [In my trial advocacy class, I ring a small
dinner bell every time a major violator says "Okay" as a response. It cures the habit.]

27. Refer to the Exhibit by Its Identifying Exhibit Number. Once an exhibit has been
marked, refer to the exhibit by its exhibit identification number. Don't say, "Look at this.
Do you recognize it?" Instead, say, "I'm handing you what has been marked for
identification as State's Exhibit Number One. Do you recognize it?" Once the exhibit
has been received in evidence continue to refer to it by its exhibit number, e.g, "Take a
look at this aerial photo marked State's Exhibit Number One, and show us where the
motor home was parked." To understand why you need to refer to exhibits by number,
picture yourself as an appellate judge reading a transcript and trying to decipher what
the word "this" refers to.
28. Recognize That You Are Making a Record Through the Court Reporter. Be
conscious that there is a court reporter preserving the record in shorthand. When the
last words have been spoken, all that remains is the record. What you say may be read
back to the jury or it may be read by one or more appellate judges (or at least by their
staff attorneys). Keep this in mind. What can you do to facilitate the making of a good
record? Here are a few suggestions:

Identify yourself to the court reporter before the trial or hearing commences. A
good way to do this is simply to provide the reporter with your business card that
provides your name, address, phone, fax, e-mail, and state bar card number.

Provide the court reporter with technical terms that may be used by (expert)

Don't overspeak. The reporter can't hear and understand two people at one time.
If the witness overspeaks you, try politely saying, "We both can't speak at once or the
court reporter is going to be upset with us. The reporter can't hear and understand both
of us talking at the same time." Don't crowd your witness' answer with your next
question. It's easy to do when you are excited. If an opposition witness is overspeaking
your questions or is running on with an unresponsive answer, you may need to
overspeak by saying, "Did you understand my question?" See the web page on CrossExamination for methods of dealing with a non-responsive witness. Another method of
stopping the opposition witness who intentionally overspeaks you is to show the witness
your upraised open palm in a stop gesture. It works about 60% of the time, particularly if
you stand at the same time and say, "Just a moment. The court reporter can't take this
down if we are both speaking at the same time." If you overspeak your witness, you
may take the blame by saying, "Sorry, I apologize to the court reporter for overspeaking
the witness."

Don't speak too rapidly. Your speech will become blurred and indistinct at above
200 words per minute.

Have your witnesses state and spell their names - given and surname (proper).

Make certain that numbers are presented in a non-confusing manner.

If you have a large number of exhibits, let the reporter know in advance.

Many courts require that you premark your exhibits. Find out beforehand if this is
the policy in your trial court. Determine if the court reporter uses color-coded exhibit
stickers, e.g., blue for the prosecution, yellow for the defense. If so, ask the court
reporter for a sufficient number of exhibit stickers to premark your exhibits. Some courts
will use letters, e.g., State's/ Plaintiff's Exhibit A, for prosecutors/plaintiffs and numbers
for the defense, e.g., Defense Exhibit 1.

Find out if the court requires you to file an exhibit list prior to trial. If so, copies of
your exhibit list typically go to the court, the court reporter and opposing counsel.

Clarify non-verbal conduct and gestures, e.g., "[To the witness] For the record,
you have (describe the witness' non-verbal conduct, e.g., 'raised you right hand with
closed fist to your right ear'), is that a fair statement?)" "For the record, the witness is
(describe the non-verbal gesture, e.g., 'indicating a distance of approximately two feet').
" or "Let the record reflect that (describe the non-verbal gesture, e.g., 'the witness is
pointing to the defendant')." or "[If you are confident that the trial judge is willing to
become a witness] For the record, would Your Honor approximate (indicate the nonverbal occurrence, e.g., 'the distance indicated by the witness')?" The goal is to be
certain that the witness' testimony is clear in the record. Suppose, for example, that you
ask a witness how far he was from the attacker and he answers, "About as far as from
me to you." You should clarify this answer for the record by getting the witness to
express the distance in feet. Similarly, if a witness answers a question with a shake of
the head or a nod, get him to answer orally, e.g., "You'll have to speak up so the court
reporter can get your answer." An alternative approach is for you to indicate the
unambiguous non-verbal answer for the record, e.g., "Let the record reflect that the
witness shook his head affirmatively in a "yes" answer to the last question."

If you are using a translator (interpreter), ask your questions directly of the
witness. Don't say to the translator, " Ask him if ..."

Withdraw mistaken references immediately upon recognizing their inaccuracy,

e.g., " I misspoke myself. Let me withdraw that reference and start over."

If you want to ask the court reporter to mark certain crucial trial testimony for later
copying and use in court during subsequent questioning or in argument, work out a
code word/phrase such as "mark, please" that will alert the court reporter that you want
that testimony noted for later copying and use in court. Let the judge know in advance
that you have made this arrangement with the reporter and obtain the court's approval.

If you quote from the evidence, indicate the source and page number, e.g., "
Concerning your sworn testimony at the preliminary hearing, on page 3, line 7 of the
reporter's transcript of the hearing, did you say (quote the prior inconsistent

If you read prior testimony, use the "question" and "answer" method.
If you ever go off the record with a sidebar conference, be sure to remember to
tell the reporter to go back on the record when the off-the-record conference ends.
29. Don't Pass Notes, Ear Whisper or Sleeve Tug on Your Co-Counsel When CoCounsel Is Examining a Witness. The lawyer who is questioning the witness is the
captain of the case and the master of the examination. Co-counsel, sitting at the
lawyer's table, is the first mate. The cardinal rule is: The first mate (co-counsel) does not
interrupt or interfere with the captain (the examiner) without the captain's permission.
Work this out in advance. If you want to be interrupted mid-stream, ignore this
suggestion. Unless you come up with a better procedure, while the examination is
taking place, the co-counsel should sit silently and make cogent written notes of any
suggestions for the examiner. When the examiner has completed the questioning
and before passing the witness, the examiner should ask the court, "Your Honor, will the
court give me just a couple of minutes to confer with co-counsel?" The judge will always
give you a chance to briefly confer with co-counsel. The examiner and co-counsel then
confer orally and/or the examiner visually reviews the written suggestions. My reasons
for this suggestion arise from seeing hundreds of instances where an overly zealous cocounsel interrupts the examiner with suggestions during the heart of the examination.
It's bad practice for several reasons: It distracts the examiner. It distracts the jurors. It
gives the appearance that the co-counsel lacks confidence in the examiner. Need I say
30. When You Finish a Round of Questioning, Say "No further questions at this
time" or "Pass the witness to counsel for (either cross, redirect, recross)" or "We
tender the witness for examination (orfor questioning) by opposing counsel)";
Only When the Witness Is Passed to You and You Have No Questions to Ask
Should You Say "No further questions." Many lawyers who call a witness end their
direct examination with the statement "No further questions." Then, opposing counsel
questions the witness on cross and says "No further questions." So far, so good. Then,
in violation of the earlier pledge to ask no further questions the lawyer who called the
witness, asks further questions on redirect and again ends with a "No further questions."
Then opposing counsel, who has also promised to ask no further questions, recrosses
the witness and ends with "No further questions." This can go on and on, until one side
actually has no further questions. At that time, the witness is excused. Why fib? Why
say, "No further questions" when you may indeed ask some more questions a little later
down the line, i.e., when the witness is passed to you? In my Criminal Trial Advocacy
course, when you have finished with your questioning of a witness on direct, cross,
redirect, recross, etc., you always say, "No further questions at this time" or "Pass the
witness for questioning," or '"Your Honor, I've concluded my (state the stage. e.g.,
direct) examination," or, if you want to be assertive in giving the other side a shot at your
witness, "We tender the witness for questioning by opposing counsel," or "Opposing
counsel may inquire of the witness." If you want to run the risk of speaking directly to
opposing counsel, you might say "The witness is back to you, counsel." Only and only

when the witness is passed or tendered to you and you have absolutely no questions of
the witness at that juncture may you say, "No further questions," or " I have no further
questions of this witness," or "Nothing further." Under this approach only one lawyer will
say, "No further questions." And that lawyer will say it only once. After it is said, the
witness be excused or excused subject to recall by the judge and will step down from
the witness stand. At the point where the witness is excused, the judge may ask each
side if it is agreeable to excuse the witness; if you anticipate needing to recall the
witness later in the case and don't want the witness to be released from his/her
subpoena, be sure to let the court know that you do not want the witness excused and
want the witness to remain in attendance and subject to the court's subpoena. You'll
need to provide the trial judge with a good reason for holding the witness. Be prepared
to say at sidebar, "Your Honor, I anticipate that I will need to recall the witness later in
the case for the purpose of (state your good reason)." Also, be aware that holding the
witness after s/he has testified on cross and direct is often a substantial inconvenience
to the witness. In such case, you may consider stating to the court that you are
amenable to allowing the witness to go about her/his business subject to notification by
the court that s/he is being recalled.
31. Act in Conformity with Ethical Values that Are Commonly Held in Esteem: In all
that you do in and about the courtroom, reflect the ethical values that people
traditionally admire, e.g., sincerity, fairness, etc.
[Bonus: If it's not covered above, check Miss Manners. or, if I've missed something,
drop an emailsuggesting an addition. And always remember, be a little kinder than
necessary to jurors and courtroom personnel. Either can help you or hurt you as they

The Art of Testifying in Court

by Jamie Hamlett, JD, Attorney for the Alamance County Department
of Social Services
Testifying in court is an art, one that can only be mastered through
practice and experience. The next time you are called upon to take
the stand, remember that as a witness you are the artist. The
audiencein particular the judgeis your canvas. Your paintbrushes
are the words you choose and your paints are the facts you have to
relate. Although you must never change the facts, the way you
apply them to the canvas can make all the difference.

This article is for those of you who, as part of your work in child
welfare, must occasionally take the stand and paint a picture for the
Follow the Basic Rules
As social workers, you are expected to be competent and
professional. Judges look to you as the experts in the area of child
welfare. To live up to that expectation you need to know how to
testify in court, which means following what I call the four basic
1. Always tell the truth, even if it hurts. If you dont, it is sure to
come back on you in some way. When you get caught in a lie, even
a small lie, it forever hurts your credibility in the eyes of that
judge. A lie will not only impact your credibility in the case at hand
but in every case for which you testify from that point forward.
2. Dont be afraid to admit you didnt hear or understand a
question. Most lawyers love the sound of their own voice, so
chances are they wont mind repeating what they have said.
3. Stop talking when someone says, Objection. The judge
will tell you whether to answer the question.
4. Dont forget: always tell the truth.
Make a Good Impression
Remember your mother telling you that you can never take back
your first impression? This is especially true for the professional
testifying in the courtroom. Therefore, your first impression must be
strong and positive.
Dress appropriately. Wear professional, conservative attire. Your
demeanor during court proceedings should be equally professional.
Behave properly. While you are waiting for your case to be called,
be attentive, quiet, and respectful. The judge is observing more than
just the parties at hand. This is particularly true if you have a
presiding judge who is a stickler for certain issues. For example, if
the judge does not like drinks or food in the courtroom, do not be
the person who gets called out for having drinks and food in the
court. You run the risk of making the judge angry at you before you

even start, and you set a poor example for others who have less
exposure to the court system.
Body language is key. Stand and sit tall in the courtroom. Your
body language can exude confidence or weakness. When people are
teaching self-defense classes, it is often taught that muggers profile
their victims. A person walking slouched over with his eyes cast to
the ground is more likely to be prey than someone who is aware of
his surroundings and walking upright. Let your body language signal
to the opposing party that you are not going to be the next victim.
Speak to the court with respect. Even if you do not respect the
judge on a given day, give the court the respect it deserves. The
court is the best system we have for resolving controversies and
administering justice in this country. The ideal and principles that
stand behind the courtroom are to be admired and respected by all.
Prepare for Court
In Alamance County, I have the luxury of the being the in-house
attorney. That means I can often meet with workers prior to court to
help them organize, predict, and prepare. Yet because in-house
attorneys are fairly rare, Id like to give you a few tips for preparing
yourself prior to a court appearance.
Do good work. Although you may think your initial presentation to
the courtroom is your first opportunity to impress the court, the
truth is that you begin preparing your testimony the moment you
begin working with a family. The best method for having good
testimony is to follow best practices in your work. In addition to
doing the right thing, you will feel more confident and secure
knowing that your underlying work is thorough and can withstand
the scrutiny of the opposing party.
Review and make notes. Prior to court, review your records. When
social workers come to my office, I hand them large note cards on
which to make the notes they will use during testimony. Reviewing
the file and taking notes helps them internalize information and
keep it fresh. When they are on the witness stand, the note cards
are easier to use than large pieces of bulky paper. The truth is, once
workers have put all that effort into preparing, they rarely have to
refer to notes.

When a worker does not review the file prior to court, the testimony
often comes across as sloppy, unorganized, and less credible. Put
yourself in the judges position: every time a question is asked, the
social worker must take long pauses to flip through voluminous
records. At some point, you will begin to think that this case is not
important to the worker. Although a witness should feel free to think
and take time when answering questions, taking long pauses can
cause frustration for those waiting. Be prepared. Know your case.
Practice. Practicing your testimony is key. Sit in front of a mirror or
get a peer to help you go through some practice questions. When
you are practicing, identify areas of weakness in your case. This will
give you an
opportunity to think through those weaknesses and develop an
appropriate response.
When you are reviewing a case and discover a huge flaw, bring that
to the attention of your attorney immediately. Often it is better for
your attorney to intentionally bring out a weakness than to have it
brought out by the opposing attorney during cross-examination. This
can also add to your credibility.

In the Courtroom
Now you are on the witness stand. What should you do?
Tell the truth. (I may have said that already.)
Stick to the facts. The court wants facts. Do not share your
opinions unless asked to do so. The facts should not be clouded by
your emotion or feelings. If you do give an opinion you should be
able to back it up with facts.
Do not be afraid to say you dont know or do not
remember when asked a question. On one occasion, a social
worker was asked what happened in court. Unfortunately, she could
not remember. Rather than admit this, she proceeded to talk about
what she thought happened, which led her to talk about what she
thought the judge was thinking. At that point I was forced to object
to my own witness! However, the judge was so amused he
encouraged her to continue. It was not a good moment.

Avoid jargon and acronyms. Assume your audience knows

nothing. If you do use social work lingo, explain what it means so
everyone will be educated and understand. This is also significant
when you consider that the case could be reviewed by another court
on appeal. When you explain a term in court your explanation enters
the record of the proceedings; this ensures the appeals court will
understand what you are talking about.
Do not fear cross-examination. If you have taken all the steps
above to prepare, you are prepared for cross-examination. During
cross-examination you must keep your composure and professional
Dont take things personally. During one highly contentious
case, a foster parent was being crossexamined by the relatives attorney. The foster mother became very
angry because she was being criticized for her treatment of a family
member. The foster mother lashed out at the attorney, judge, and
family member. From that point on, she had no credibility with the
judge. When she was explaining to the judge the difficulty the
children were having with visitation with the relatives, the judges
eyes glazed over.
Take heart. No one is comfortable on the witness stand. However,
you should never feel alone on the witness stand. Your attorney is
your ally. He or she will help jog your memory when you get lost and
try to guide you back when you go astray. You are not alone.
Remember, every time you testify you are crafting your art so that
you will be better the next time. You will mature and improve with
time. You will learn what to expect and how to handle situations. Do
not be afraid to self-critique after you testify or ask someone where
you did well and what areas could use improvement. Believe it or
not, attorneys do this as well.
You are now prepared to go into the world of testimony. Remember
to paint your picture for those who have never seen it before. When
you get off the witness stand, your audience should be able to
envision what you yourself have lived!

TO THE LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICER As a witness / investigator of a crime, your

cooperation is essential to make the criminal justice system work. This brochure has
been developed by the Clark County Prosecuting Attorney in an effort to lessen your
inconvenience and to help you feel more comfortable in the courtroom.
If you have any questions or problems, feel free to contact my office at (812) 285-6264.
Our office is open to serve your needs from 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through
Friday for telephone calls or walk-in assistance. After hours a prosecutor or victim
advocate can be reached at home through your dispatcher.
CRIMINAL COURT PROCEDURE A criminal case is begun by the Prosecutor filing an
Information, or by a Grand Jury returning an Indictment, against the defendant. Unless
the defendant enters into a plea agreement, his guilt or innocence will be determined at
a trial on a date determined by the trial judge. Unless waived by the defendant, all trials
are jury trials.
RECEIVING A SUBPOENA A subpoena is a court order directing you to be present at
the time and place stated. Once you are served with a subpoena, you are obligated to
appear. Failure to appear may be understood as contempt of court by the judge, and
may result in dismissal of the criminal charges, so it is very important that you inform
your prosecutor if you cannot appear as directed. Indiana law makes no provision for
reimbursement of expenses to state or local government employees for court
appearances at a criminal trial.
BEFORE THE TRIAL Diligent investigation and preparation is the key to any successful
prosecution in a criminal case. Adequate documentation is essential. IF IT'S NOT IN
THE CASE REPORT, IT DID NOT HAPPEN. The defense attorney will expect all
relevant facts to be documented. All reports, statements or other evidence in the case
should be brought to the attention of the Prosecutor well in advance of trial so that he
may adequately comply with discovery orders. The Court may exclude from the trial any
evidence when the defendant is not notified before trial of its existence.
You are under no obligation to speak with anyone regarding the case outside the
courtroom before trial. Any effort to do so should be reported to the Prosecutor
immediately. However, you may be required to give a deposition.
If you have not had previous courtroom experience, make it a point to visit the court and
listen to others testify. This is the best way to understand and familiarize yourself with
what you will face as a witness.

AT TRIAL Effective courtroom performance is founded upon experience and diligent

preparation. Before taking the stand, you should be thoroughly familiar with all reports
prepared by you, and all statements or depositions given by you. Any change in
testimony at trial may result in impeachment by defense counsel and points scored by
his client.
In the event you do forget, say so, and you will be permitted to refer to your reports to
refresh your memory. While you should take your reports with you to the witness stand,
keep in mind that a witness who has to fumble through his notes, or read verbatim from
a report when asked about important events, is not very forceful or effective.
It is common procedure for the trial court to exclude all witnesses from the courtroom
while others are testifying. This is to insure that the testimony of one witness does not
influence the testimony of another. Do not discuss the testimony of witnesses who have
already testified. Once you have testified you are free to leave the courtroom, or remain
in the audience unless otherwise ordered by the Judge or requested by the Prosecutor.
WHEN TESTIFYING Some suggestions to keep in mind as you prepare for your court
(1) Always tell the truth. At trial, as in all other matters, honesty is the best policy. If you
tell the truth and tell it accurately, nobody can cross you up. Do not guess or make up
an answer. If you do not know the answer it is best to say, "I don't know." If you are
asked about details that you do not remember it is best to say, "I don't remember".
(2) Dress neatly and conservatively, and be courteous. The way you dress and present
yourself is a direct reflection on you. You want to be sure that your appearance and
manner do not distract the judge or jury from careful consideration of your testimony.
Police officers should be in uniform, or in at least a sport coat and tie. No tinted glasses
or flashy jewelry. A question should be answered, "Yes, sir," or "No, sir," and the judge
should be addressed as "Your Honor."
(3) Be attentive. You should remain alert at all times so that you can hear, understand,
and give a proper response to each question. If the judge or jury get the impression that
you are bored or indifferent, they may tend to disregard your testimony. Use good
posture, do not slouch.
(4) Take your time and speak clearly and loudly. Give the question such thought as it
requires to understand it. The juror farthest from you should be able to hear distinctly
what you have to say. Do not chew gum and keep your hands away from your mouth.
Since all testimony is recorded, do not nod your head "yes" or "no".

(5) Be serious in the Courtroom. Avoid joking and wisecracks in the jury's presence. The
jury is sitting in judgment of another person whose liberty is at stake. That is always a
very serious matter. BEWARE of hallway actions and conversations.
(6) Answer all questions directly. Answer only the questions asked, then stop. Avoid
"volunteering" information. If you do not understand a question, ask that it be explained.
Do not look at the Prosecutor for help while you are testifying and never ask the Judge if
you have to answer. This will give the jury the impression that you are holding
something back. You are on your own.
(7) Do not lose your temper. Some attorneys may attempt to wear you down so that you
will lose your temper and say things that are not correct. Do not fence or argue with the
attorneys. They have a right to question you, and many are very expert in this craft.
(8) BEWARE of questions involving distance and time. If you make an estimate, make
sure that everyone understands that you are estimating. BEWARE of questions asking if
you are willing to swear to your version of the events. You were "sworn" to tell the truth
when you took the stand, do not be afraid of saying so. BEWARE of questions asking if
you have spoken to the Prosecutor, the witnesses, or other officers. If you have, admit it
freely. This preparation before trial is expected in each case. If you are asked if you
talked with the Prosecutor about your testimony, admit that you met with him, talked
about the case and he instructed you to tell the truth. BEWARE of questions asking why
you don't like the defendant. You may best respond by stating that you feel sorry for any
man in trouble, but you must tell the truth, and if the defendant is guilty, he should be
convicted. BEWARE of questions asking you if another witness was telling the truth or
lying. You can only tell the truth based upon your observations. You have no way of
knowing what another person observed, especially when you did not hear that person
testify. BEWARE of the simple question, "Why are you here today?" You are not here to
volunteer information in order to convict. You are not an advocate. You are an unbiased
witness. You appeared at trial in response to being served with a subpoena issued by
the Court Clerk.
(9) Give positive, definite answers when at all possible. Avoid saying, "I think, I believe,
In my opinion." A witness testifies to facts, not beliefs or opinions.
(10) No comment should ever be made about polygraphs or the prior criminal record of
the defendant unless specifically asked by counsel. If an objection is made while you
are testifying, stop and await instructions from the Judge.
(10) Be yourself. Do not use "legalese" or police "lingo" just for the sake of impressing
the jury. It will have the opposite effect. Saying that "At 2140 hours the perpetrator

exited the northeast door of the motor vehicle and started flight with responding officers
in pursuit, resulting in apprehension," can be much more effectively stated: "At twenty till
ten, the defendant got out of his car from the passenger side and ran, but was chased
and caught by other officers."
The most effective witness is one who can tell their story comfortably. Just tell the truth
and be yourself. Everything else will take care of itself.
1. BE PREPARED - KNOW THE CASE Know all reports and prior
Know the role of other officers/witnesses in investigation
Review physical evidence; visit crime scene
Meet with Prosecutor
2. LOOK GOOD, SOUND GOOD, BE GOOD Professional, unbiased, courteous
Have confidence
If you look and sound like a bad cop, you must be a bad cop