My 1.5 Cents on Testifying in Court

ACS webinars along with Dr. Jim Carver covered “Chemistry inthe Courtroom: Demistifying Science for Judge and Jury” yesterday during a webinar. I didn’t get to view it as it was happening, but I was able to follow along via tweets by the @ACSWebinars. It looked to be a good presentation with valuable information for anyone who will ever step foot into a court room.
I've spent several years providing fact and expert witness testimony. Here are my random 1.5 cents on how to act in the courtroom; this is in no way a complete guide on courtroom behavior - just my ramblings.
  1. Bring some other reading material or something to occupy your time while not in the courtroom. I’ve sat in many courthouses for hours prior to actually taking the stand. Finished many books this way
  2. Courtroom benches can be quite uncomfortable. Be aware of this.
  3. Always arrive at least 30 minutes earlier than normal, especially if the courthouse is an unknown to you.
  4. Be calm.
  5. Breathe.
  6. Sit up straight in the witness chair. Do not slouch.
  7. Pronounce your words coherently and do not talk quickly. If there is a microphone, use it.
  8. Unless stipulated, be prepared to talk about yourself – education, job history, certifications, job duties, papers published – basically anything that will lay the foundation for you as an expert witness.
  9. Be prepared to be challenged on your knowledge, education, and history.
  10. When asked a question, take a breath, pause, and then answer.
  11. If the trial is a jury trial, look at the attorney who is addressing the question to you, then when answering the question, look at the members of the jury. Make eye contact with each and every one that you can. Do this routinely.
  12. Do not interrupt the attorney. Let the attorney finish her sentence, pause, and then directly answer the question.
  13. Be calm.
  14. Things have the possibility to get a little heated in the courtroom, but remember you are the expert in your field and are called to testify for that very reason – you are the scientific expert.
  15. It is ok to say “I don’t know” or “I don’t recall”. Especially if you really don’t know or if you really cannot recall.
  16. If there is an objection by an attorney, stop what you are saying. Do not continue until the judge says it is ok to continue.
  17. Never lie, misrepresent the science, or make up any information.
  18. Breathe
  19. Humans do make mistakes. It may be hard to admit this in court, but it’s a fact of life. I’ve gotten into a few good discussions while on the stand about human errors.
  20. The validated procedures we use in the field are only as good as the people trained to do them.
  21. There are checks and balances and redundancies built into a reputable laboratory’s procedures for a reason. Don’t be afraid to talk about them.
  22. A good attorney will prep you for testimony. A bad attorney will not.
  23. Always maintain contact with the attorney that has retained your services. If you have a question about the court process, do not hesitate to ask.
  24. If using figures or diagrams, please consult with attorney beforehand.
  25. Do not try to draw chemical structures or anything else complex without a guide. Do not do it “off the top of your head” while in front of the judge, jury, and attorneys.
  26. Always remain calm on the stand. It is quite easy to become frazzled when a defense attorney rapid-fires questions at you. Again, let her finish the question, pause, take a breath, and answer confidently and coherently.
  27. Never leave the court until released by the judge.
  28. You know what you know. You are the expert. Do not elaborate outside the area of your job expertise or scope. I am always happy to say “That is outside the scope of my expertise”.
  29. Prepare, prepare, prepare.
  30. Know your case. You are the expert.


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