What Is a Deposition?  How is One Given?

A deposition is simply sworn testimony that a witness gives outside of a courtroom. Usually, a deposition consists of one or both of the parties’ lawyers asking questions in front of each other and a court reporter. Lawyers from each side obtain depositions of witnesses during the discovery phase of a civil trial. What is stated by the witness during the deposition is then typed by a court reporter and able to be used at a trial.

What If One Has to Give a Deposition?

Depositions are important whether one is a witness or a party in a lawsuit. Depositions can make or break a case. If one is a witness, their testimony can be critical to either side’s case. No matter what role one is playing, one should always tell the truth. Here are some tips that will assist in making depositions as painless and effective as possible:

  • Dress appropriately. This is particularly true if one is a party to a case. Whether one is a defendant or a plaintiff, the lawyer for the opposing side will be highly judgemental regarding appearance. If one side appears grungy to the opposition’s lawyer, she will assume that a jury will share a similar perception. This impression could affect the chances of the case being settled out of court.
  • Ask for a break if it is needed. The person giving the deposition is the star of the show and does have a certain level of control. If a break is needed, take one!
  • Take time and think about exactly what the question is asking. Always make sure the question is understood before answering. Never rush into an answer. The court reporter does not record how long it takes to think about a question so take time and think about the answer before speaking. Always answer a “yes” or “no” question with only a “yes” or “no”. Never elaborate beyond a “yes” or “no” answer.
  • Tell the truth. Nothing kills a case quicker than being discovered to be lying. Furthermore, lying under oath is against the law.
  • Answer simply. Unless the question is for a comprehensive list, keep answers short, like “yes”, “no”, or “I don’t know.”

What Actions Should Be Avoided During a Deposition?

Generally, when giving a deposition, do not:

  • Volunteer information, ever. Wait until the lawyer asks for an answer, and limit the answer only to that question.
  • Tell the attorney where he/she can find more information. Do not do the lawyer’s job for them.
  • Argue with the lawyer. Even though the lawyer who is asking the questions might be on the opposition’s side, it is important never to be mean or aggressive with them. The lawyer for the opposition can read such statements back to the jury, ultimately helping their own case.
  • Talk during a break. Any talking conducted during a break must be with one’s own attorney and out of ear-shot of anyone else. If this rule is not followed, one may find the other side’s lawyer questioning the substance of such discussions conducted during the break.
  • Do not ever guess. “I don’t know” or “I do not remember,” are perfectly acceptable answers.

Are Attorneys Needed for Depositions?

If one is simply a witness to, say a car wreck, a lawyer is probably not needed. However, if one is the person suing (also called a plaintiff) for injuries sustained during a car wreck or damages for a personal injury, it is wise to have an attorney present. Contact the attorneys at Dennis and King for more information.

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