In the court room there are certain unspoken rules to follow when you are up on the stand as a forensic psychologist. Here are a couple of tips on how to follow those rules while you’re on the stand:
As a forensic psychologist, your overall attitude should be confident, yet relaxed when you’re on the stand. To the average judge or jury, a professional can convey an air of authority and respect, so make sure you use this to your advantage. Maintain composure and dignity at all times and remember, no matter how difficult the cross-examination may be, you are not the one on trial here. It’s not you who will ultimately decide the case for plaintiff or defendant; your job is to present the facts and evidence, and then let the legal process do its job.
Body language is important in court as it may reflect your level of confidence and sometimes even competence. If there’s a microphone in front of you, sit close enough so that you don’t have to lean over every time you speak. When speaking, make sure to make eye contact and speak clearly for the court to hear. Keep your notes, files, and other materials organized in front of you, so you can find documents and exhibits when you need them. A simple tip of the court room is to also sit in a neutral area as an expert witness. In this position you are to remain neutral, even in the court room. This means you should never sit near one party in the court room, try sitting in a neutral area to avoid the appearance of being biased.
While testifying or speaking to the court, look at the attorney while they are questioning you, then switch your eye contact to the jury while answering the question; it’s them you have to establish a connection with, and jurors tend to find witnesses more credible when they make eye contact. Speak as clearly, slowly, and concisely as possible to be understood. Keep sentences short and to the point. Keep your voice tone steady and use a normal conversational tone.
Listen carefully to each question before you respond. If you don’t fully understand the question, ask the attorney to repeat or rephrase it. Don’t be baited into giving a quick answer; if you need a couple of seconds to compose your thoughts, take them. Speak as clearly and concisely as possible. Answer the question completely, but don’t over-elaborate or ramble. Never try to bluff your way out of a tricky question, skimpily state you don’t know. Never become defensive.
Attorneys will often phrase questions in a way that constrains your answers in the direction they want you to go. If you feel you cannot honestly answer the question by a simple yes-or-no answer, say so: “Sir, if I limit my answer to yes or no, I will not be able to give factual testimony. Is that what you wish me to do?” Sometimes, the attorney will voluntarily reword the question. If he or she presses for a yes-or-no answer, at that point either your attorney will probably pop up to voice an objection or the judge will usually intervene.
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