How to Testify – Telling the Truth

“Conscience is the inner voice that warns us somebody may be looking.” – H.L. Mencken

The first rule about testifying is to tell the truth. While that may seem obvious, you’re forgetting that the end result of a lawsuit often involves someone who has given testimony either receiving or paying out tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars, or more. As you might imagine, people often have tremendous difficulty following this basic rule.

There are many reasons to tell the truth: It’s the right thing to do, testimony becomes a permanent court record which your children could look up someday, there are legal penalties for perjury, etc., but you knew all of this before you began reading. The point of this article is simple: if you are dishonest while testifying, you will be caught, and it will backfire.

As the quote above suggests, in the context of litigation, someone is looking. Prior to anyone saying a word under oath, attorneys for each side have typically reviewed a mountain of documentary evidence – police reports, incident reports, medical records, photographs, surveillance videos, etc. The contents of these materials contain an endless amount of prior statements. While telling a lie under oath seems simple, the trouble comes in trying to remain consistent about the lie every time the topic comes up both before and after telling the lie, often a timeline of years. The point: Liars get caught, so don’t lie.

Moreover, giving testimony is not a quick “in and out” experience. Under Illinois law, an attorney has a right to depose a witness with up to three hours of questions. When we suspect a lie, we are taught to keep asking and asking related questions in the hopes that at some point the deponent either breaks and confesses the truth, or more likely, digs their hole even deeper by continuing to lie and lie and lie, often times creating an extravagant concoction that defies belief. Frequently, the witness is giving their first and last deposition in their lifetime, whereas I sit in on around 5 depositions per month. The point again: Liars get caught, so don’t lie.

Keep it simple. Don’t turn a good case into a terrible case by lying in a mistaken attempt to create a great case.

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