Private Investigator swearing oath for a deposition

Giving a Deposition – The 10 Best Tips for Private Investigators

So you’ve collected some great evidence from your latest case and now you have to testify as a witness. But first you’ll be summoned to a deposition.

What’s a deposition? A deposition is your sworn, out-of-court testimony[1] that takes place during the fact-finding point in the case, which is called “discovery.” In a deposition, opposing counsel will ask you questions about your evidence and your role in the case, and then your recorded and transcribed answers will become official court record.

Depositions typically take place in a law office, but can sometimes occur over the phone or via video conference. You’ll be accompanied by your client’s legal team, opposing counsel, a court reporter, and many times a videographer or judge.

The difficulty is that the process can take several nerve-wracking hours, and one vague answer might derail the case. So, what can you do?

Here are 10 pointers an investigator can use to give an effective deposition:

1. Be professional

Dress neatly, but not over-the-top, and act courteously. Provide a résumé to your legal team prior to the deposition. This will give them a better idea of your character and level of expertise.

2. Be candid.

Do not elaborate or volunteer information. A simple “yes” or “no” will do.

3. Beware of the pregnant pause.

Don’t fill pauses or silences or attempt to fill in the blanks. Many opposing lawyers will use this tactic to attempt to draw out information from you. But it’s not your job to educate opposing council.[2]

4. Leave your documents at home.

Don’t supply or offer knowledge of documents unless requested. Written reports and paperwork can be “discovered” and be used as evidence. Review your documents prior to going to the law offices.

5. Say “I don’t know.”

If you don’t know, don’t feel compelled to come up with an answer. Reminger lawyer Michael Mahon, who has deposed dozens of witnesses, says “If you do not know the answer to a question, simply say ‘I don’t know.’ Don’t feel that just because a question is asked, you are expected to know the answer to it. If you don’t recall what is being asked about, say ‘I don’t recall.’”

6. Pause before each answer.

Checking yourself before each response gives your counsel time to object to questions and gives you a moment to think about your answer.

7. State the facts.

Answer to the best of your ability, but only if you witnessed facts first-hand. Don’t quote hearsay or second-hand information as true. You can’t give insight about someone else’s feelings or thoughts.

8. Keep your cool.

Opposing counsel may try to bully you, but stay calm. Your goal is to show no signs of exasperation, anger, or boredom. If you need a break, ask for one. Your counsel can request a five-minute recess if needed.

9. Avoid humor.

Court reporters don’t write in sarcastic font, so humor doesn’t come off well on written transcripts.  Besides, this isn’t the setting for jokes.

10. Review the deposition.

Insist on analyzing your testimony after the interview is over. You’ll want to check the court reporter’s written account for accuracy.

Once you’ve got these tips down and you’ve put yourself in the right mindset, you’ll be well-equipped to become a capable and effective deponent. Let them fire away!

Let me know what you think.

What experiences have you had with depositions? Comment below.

About the Author

Adam Visnic

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Adam Visnic is a private investigator, licensed in both Ohio and Kentucky, and owner of Gravitas Professional Services, LLC. He has an MS in Safety, Security, and Emergency Management and a BS in Criminal Justice both from Eastern Kentucky University, where he was a captain on the Colonels baseball team.

 


[1] (2011). Deposition | Wex Legal Dictionary / Encyclopedia | LII … Retrieved February 26, 2016, from http://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/deposition.

[2] (2006). Testifying Under Oath: How To Be An Effective Witness: 41 … Retrieved February 25, 2016, from http://www.amazon.com/Testifying-Under-Oath-Effective-Witness/dp/1884244262.

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