Tag Archives: testimony

Do Not Answer a Question with “Sure.”

Testifying in Court can be hard. It causes stress, anxiety, and it is seldom a great experience. However, some responses should be eliminated from your vocabulary.

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(adjective) surer, surest.

1.  free from doubt as to the reliability, character, action, etc., of something:

to be sure of one’s data.

2.  confident, as of something expected:

sure of success.

3.  convinced, fully persuaded, or positive:

to be sure of a person’s guilt.
(Slang definitions & phrases for sure)
Yes; certainlySure, I’ll support you (1842+)
While a slang use for sure could mean yes, it does not sound like it in Court.
NOT GOOD
Q: Mr. Witness, don’t you agree that telling your child that the other parent is a deceitful, hateful train-wreck is inappropriate.
A: Sure.
It sounds dismissive. It could be treated as a “whatever” response. You do not want to create an impression with the Court that you do not take the matter seriously.
BETTER 
Q: Mr. Witness, don’t you agree that telling your child that the other parent is a deceitful, hateful train-wreck is inappropriate.
A: Yes, I did. It was wrong. I regret it. I will not discuss grown up things with the child again. I’m sorry for that.
This response is not dismissive. It answers the question. It demonstrates remorse and that the conduct will not repeat itself.
BEST*
Q: Mr. Witness, don’t you agree that telling your child that the other parent is a deceitful, hateful train-wreck is inappropriate.
A: Yes, I agree that would be inappropriate, but I never did that, nor would I.
This response is the best. It answers the question directly and advises the Court you did not do the conduct being complained of. (This response is only possible if it is the truth.*)
Of course you can say the word sure and use it in other responses, but it should likely not be a one-word response.
Matthew Thompson is a Family Law attorney in Mississippi and is sure that you should not answer a question with “sure” most of the time.
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Child Testimony and You

Whether to use child testimony is a difficult issue to resolve between parents and attorneys involved in child custody cases. Children know more than you think and also may have an opinion. However, child testimony is discouraged in most instances…

“We reiterate that parents in a divorce proceedingimgres.jpg should if at all possible refrain from calling any of the children of their marriage, of tender years at least, as witnesses, and counsel should advise their clients against doing so except in the most exigent cases.”- Jethrow v. Jethrow

So, do the children testify or not? For Family Law cases the leading authority is Jethrow vs. Jethrow, 571 So.2d 270 (Miss. 1990). This case lays the groundwork that the Court should use when assessing child testimony. Different Courts and different Judges apply Jethrow in varying ways, but the basic premise is, as follows;

  • A child witnesses of tender years, 12 and under for testimony purposes, testifying is subject to the discretion of the Judge. 
  • Before allowing such testimony the Judge “should satisfy himself that the child has the ability to perceive and remember events, to understand and answer questions intelligently, and to comprehend and accept the importance of truthfulness.”

Before excluding the testimony of a child witness of tender years in a divorce proceeding, the chancellor at a minimum should follow the procedure required by Crownover v. Crownover, 33 Ill.App.3rd 327, 337 N.E.2d 56 (1975):

  • The first hurdle is whether the child is competent to testify.
  • The Judge should confer in camera (meaning in the Judge’s chambers/office) with the child and determine whether or not the child’s testimony should be heard
  • The Judge has considerable discretion in conducting proceedings of this type, meaning it’s the judge’s decision.
  • The court should not, however, reject outright proposed testimony of a child in custody proceedings, where the omission of such crucial testimony might be harmful to the child’s best interests.
  • The trial court should take great pains to have an in camera conference with the child to determine the competency of the child,
  • as well as the competency of any evidence which the child might present.
  • The court should also then determine whether the best interests of the child would be served by permitting her to testify, or
  • Whether the child should be sheltered from testifying and being subjected to a vigorous cross-examination.
  • The Judge should report the essential material matters developed at the in camera conference on the record.
  • The Court should state the reasons for allowing or disallowing the testimony of the child, and
  • The Court should note the factual information which the court developed from the conference with the child which would be considered by the court in its ultimate determinations in the case.

A child testifying should be avoided if at all possible.

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Witnesses, Facts and What you are Told.

You’re entitled to your own opinion, but you are not entitled to your own facts.

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Testifying as a witness can be intimidating and scary. However, you do not have to let it get to you. Your job as a witness is to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. If you are testifying as a witness it is usually because you know something about the case and can help provide factual information. Your job as a witness, however is not to guess, speculate or even give your opinion, usually.

To be a good witness answer the question asked. Answer it with a “yes” or “no” or “I don’t know.” You may explain if you need to. Be direct. It is usually wise to only answer what is asked and it is also wise not to assume “facts” if you do NOT have personal knowledge of the underlying situation.

Also, someone telling you something does not make it a fact within your personal knowledge, even if they seem like they are telling the truth.

Matthew Thompson is a Family Law Attorney in Mississippi and reminds you to stick to the facts, just the facts.

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