A deposition is a pre-trial proceeding where a lawyer, usually on the opposing side, asks a witness a series of questions about facts and events relating to a lawsuit. Lawyers use the information given to assess the strengths and weaknesses of their case and bolster arguments or defend accusations at trial.
Although the depositions occur outside the courtroom (usually in a lawyer’s office), witnesses must take the proceeding very seriously. As a witness, you are under oath. A court reporter records every word said throughout the deposition, and if your story changes at trial, you could find yourself in serious legal trouble.
Depositions can feel nerve-wracking, but you should have ample time to prepare and practice with your lawyer. In the meantime, here are the five most important things to remember when in the hot seat.
- Think before you speak. Take the time to reflect on the question and the accuracy of your response before giving your answer. Although you may feel pressured to answer quickly, there’s no need. It’s better to provide a thoughtful, accurate response than give a rushed answer that you may need to qualify or retract later.
- Never volunteer information. Answer the precise question that’s asked and no more. Resist the temptation to educate the questioner about a particular issue or your opinion before anyone asks. Questions are often friendly and relaxed to encourage witnesses to open up and provide more detail than requested. Don’t fall for it. Remember: nothing is casual chit-chat in a deposition.
- Ask for clarification. If you find a question confusing or didn’t hear it properly, ask the interrogator to clarify or repeat it. Be especially wary if a question could elicit an ambiguous or inaccurate answer. For example, a questioner may ask a compound question such as, “Did you see Sarah return the document and lock the filing cabinet?” Your lawyer will likely object to such a question because it’s possible that you saw one action but not the other. However, if they don’t, you can ask the interrogator to rephrase the question or respond as if they had asked two separate questions.
- Avoid sarcasm or jokes. Remember that your responses are being transcribed word-for-word. The resulting transcript will not reflect the tone used, which can cause misunderstanding later. For example, if you answer a question sarcastically, saying, “Yeah, sure,” the record will only reflect that you answered affirmatively. If these words are used against you later, it can be difficult to backtrack and claim that you were being sarcastic or “only joking.”
- Tell the truth. You take an oath to tell the truth in a deposition and can face civil or criminal charges for perjury. If you’re concerned about how a specific issue may reflect in the record or how it may implicate you, speak to your attorney about it before the deposition. However, remember that it’s better to tell the truth, even when it’s painful, rather than to be caught in a lie.
If you’re facing a legal dispute in Colorado, don’t hesitate to speak with a caring, experienced attorney as soon as possible. Call Greer Law at (303) 493-9861 or contact us online to get answers to your questions and start down the path to resolution.