Civil Litigation Criminal Law Litigation Strategy Trial Strategy

Don’t Let Your Witness Look Like a Liar

noseJurors have been bombarded with information about “body language.” This information is joined by common folklore about tell-tale signs of falsehood. Here are five things to practice with your witnesses to keep their body language consistent with their truthful testimony.

It’s not only about what the witness says, it’s also about how the witness says it and how he or she looks when it’s said.

Work with your witness to develop the following behaviors so they don’t conform to juror stereotypes about liars:

  1. Make eye contact. The witness should make eye-contact while testifying. Use a second person (or a hat rack) when the witness is rehearsed. Make the witness look at that second person or object as though looking at the jury. Instruct and rehearse the witness to turn and look at the judge whenever the court asks questions.
  2. Appear like an open book. The witness should keep arms apart, not crossed.
  3. Take the middle road between glib and labored. Immediate, polished answers sound rehearsed and artificial. On the other hand, dramatic hesitations and knitted brows are also artificial.
  4. Speak clearly. The witness shouldn’t lower his or her voice, swallow words, or mumble during important testimony.
  5. Stay animated. The witness should lean forward, toward the jury, and use hand gestures.

If you plan to use visual aids with a witness, make sure to practice them with the witness in advance. Few things are as nerve-wracking as a witness who can’t make heads or tails of a critical diagram, hasn’t previously read the blow-up of a letter, or is unfamiliar with photographs being shown in court.

Want more practical tips from the masters on witness preparation and direct examination? Turn to CEB’s Effective Direct and Cross-Examination, chap 2. Also check out CEB’s On Demand program Evidence: Tips for Effective Direct and Cross Examination.

Other CEBblog™ posts on direct examination:

© The Regents of the University of California, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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