A professional law enforcement officer (PLEO) should never commit perjury while testifying. Perjury is knowingly telling a lie under oath about something that is important to the case.
If a PLEO commits perjury while testifying, the officer may lose his or her job, he or she may face imprisonment or a fine, the defendant may be acquitted, and it reflects negatively on the professionalism and integrity of law enforcement (Garland, 2015).
As a witness, a PLEO should never appear in court unprepared. Before testifying, the prosecutor will always provide you with a notification either via a phone call or a written document to appear in court.
In case it is your first time to appear as a witness, the best strategy is to familiarize yourself with court proceedings in advance (Garland, 2015). You are encouraged to attend several trials and make keen observations related to testifying. After making a few observations, What constitutes a good' or a 'bad' testimony becomes apparent (Stewart, 2016).
You should never be late or skip a court appearance. Failure to present you in court upon receiving a subpoena is interpreted as contempt of court.
It is crucial that you contact the prosecution to ensure you have the correct date and time. At times, there might be changes in the set date at the time hence you should keep in touch to avoid missing crucial information. In case of unexpected delays, you are expected to inform the prosecutor as soon as possible (Garland, 2015). The jury can dismiss the criminal charges if you fail to appear in court without a convincing reason(s)
You should never breach courtroom rules.
It is inappropriate to interrupt others while they are making their case. You are expected to respond individually to questions by the defense attorneys. Hence you should never seek help from the judge or the prosecutor. In case an improper question is directed to you, an objection will follow.
You should never talk about the content of your evidence. It might influence the testimony of those yet to testify.
Testimonies made by a PLEO in court should never be revealed or discussed with other witnesses (Garland, 2015). Likewise, a PLEO should not inquire or seek clarifications from other parties on what their evidence about the case entails.
You should not dress inappropriately when appearing in court. It is a general rule for PLEO to wear to the court what he or she wears to work.
Always appear neat, conservatively dressed and courteous. As a professional, how you dress and present yourself in court is a direct reflection on you (Stewart, 2016).
You should never take exoneration personally. A judgment can either be against or in favor of you.
A PLEO is expected to act professionally no matter the outcome of the case presented. After a judgment is made, he or she should always review the proceedings of the case and determine errors made while presenting his or her testimony (Garland, 2015). Reviewing the proceedings allows the PLEO to avoid similar errors in future scenarios.
You should never make up an answer. It is advisable to admit that you cannot recall specific information other than fumbling an answer.
Carry with you final reports and important investigative materials to help refresh your memory. Lack of clarity or confidence when responding to questions about specific events is never effective, and it might weaken your evidence (Stewart, 2016).
Never provide incorrect information. As a PLEO, you must be honest and truthful.
You are expected only to give information about what you witnessed which must resonate with what is documented in the evidence presented before the jury. If you come across new information while being cross-examined, it is always important to clarify that you are not aware of such information (Stewart, 2016).
You should not answer a question that is unclear to you.
Always seek clarification if you do not understand a specific question. Answering unclear questions can lead to a contradiction between your testimony and the evidence.
You should not offer extra information. The judge is only interested in the facts you witnessed.
Any extra information that is not asked for is considered irrelevant (Stewart, 2016). Your opinions or information from a third party is not necessary unless it is asked for by the jury.
Do not argue with the defendant attorney no matter how angry you are.
It is common for attorneys to ask pressing questions which might wear you down. In such instances, always remain calm to avoid giving out false statements.
While on the stand, you should never use foul language. It is outrightly unprofessional.
Inside the courtroom, foul language is considered offensive and inappropriate (Stewart, 2016). Using curse or swear words by a PLEO can compromise your evidence.
You should never exaggerate the truth. Only state facts as witnessed and as plainly as possible.
Giving exclusive facts related to the case and specific witness information provides clarity and denies the defense attorneys a chance to put words into your mouth (Stewart, 2016). Broad statements are confusing and might cast doubts about your testimony.
You should never exit the court unofficially. You might be recalled to testy again.
After testifying, always ascertain that the jury permanently excuses you and that no further examination is required.
You should not withhold information that you think is important.
In case you find out that part of the testimony provided as evidence is missing, always try and inquire from your attorneys (Stewart, 2016).
You should never lose focus.
Avoid distractions while in the courtroom especially while testifying. If you lose focus, you might end up missing important information.
You should never rush to answer a question. Always take your time while responding to questions
Make sure that you understand the question comprehensively to avoid giving a false statement to specific questions.
You should never make inappropriate comments in front of the jury.
Avoid wisecracks and jokes and always pay attention to the court proceedings. The jury relies on your testimonies to determine the case. It is an extremely serious matter because the liberty of an individual is at stake(Stewart, 2016).
Never provide ambiguous or indeterminate answers.
Always avoid using indefinite answers like, "I believe" or "I think." A PLEO is expected to testify facts and not opinions or beliefs (Stewart, 2016).
Never use police "lingo" to try and impress the jury. A judge is interested in a simple and clear testimony.
The best strategy is testifying about the account in a comfortable way that is well understood by those in the courtroom. As a PLEO, always be yourself while testifying in the presence of a jury (Stewart, 2016).
Garland, N. M. (2015). Criminal Evidence (7th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Education.
Stewart, S. (2016). Effective Courtroom Performance for Witnesses. Clarkprocecutor.org. Retrieved 21 Feb 2018, from http://www.clarkprosecutor.org/html/victim/wtips.pdf
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