By John V. Berry, www.berrylegal.com
Our law firm represents and advises law enforcement officers in legal proceedings. One of the principal functions of police or other law enforcement officers is to provide testimony in criminal, civil or administrative cases. We often defend law enforcement officers when allegations are made against them and often advise police officers regarding their testimony in administrative, civil and criminal matters. We have provided below, the following tips for law enforcement officers to consider when providing testimony in any of these forums in order to present the best case possible.
We realize that attorneys, whether government or defense attorneys will focus on attempting to discredit or "trip up" an officer on the stand, so it is important to prepare, in advance of testimony. Our tips follow:
- Focus on the Question Asked: an officer should respond directly and honestly to the questions being asked by the defense or government attorney during testimony, but the best advice is not to try to add additional testimony to justify an action taken. We have found that officers that politely and shortly answer a defense attorney's questions increase the importance of their testimony and minimize criminal defense attorney attacks on cross-examination. It is not usually advisable for an officer to provide additional information that has not been sought. Many a case has taken a turn for the worse when an officer adds additional information that was not asked by a criminal defense or other attorney.
- Don't be Defensive: the more calm and collective that a police officer is during his or her testimony, the more credible that testimony is. Many criminal defense attorneys will try to rattle a law enforcement officer by attacking them during testimony. The officer should keep a proper mindset, before, during and after testimony and wait until the defense attorney is done speaking, pause, and then politely respond. We have found that no matter the forum, the more calm a police officer is in responding to aggressive tactics, the more credible that officer's testimony will be. If an officer responds aggressively, it can weaken their testimony. It is important for a law enforcement officer to also do their best to manage their body language. The calmer an officer appears, the more credible he or she will appear to others. It is critical that when the defense attorney attempts to present the officer as biased that he or she politely responds in the negative. Many criminal defense or government attorneys will try, on purpose, to get into an argument with the officer. Officers are advised not to take this bait. In short, the calmer the law enforcement officer response, the worse it is for criminal defense attorneys in their case.
- Preparation for Testimony is Key: preparation for testimony is also of key importance for the law enforcement officer. It cannot be overemphasized that a police officer should prepare for any testimony that will be given, regardless of forum (criminal, civil, administrative). If the case involves a criminal proceeding, a law enforcement officer should ensure that they have reviewed all evidence, any related reports and kept in contact with the prosecutor to ensure that they are all on the same page for the criminal case. This also applies when the officer is testifying in the forums, such as disciplinary or civil proceedings.
- Keep Answers Short and to the Point: along with Tip #1, regarding focus, it is generally important for a law enforcement officer to answer questions asked as succinctly and to the point as possible. Some of the best testimony I have seen by police officers was where they politely, with a calm voice, answered no or yes to a question without elaborating. A more advanced response technique that I have seen is that after the yes or no, the officer appears as if he or she is about to testify with additional information and then simply remains quiet. If a criminal defense attorney or government attorney seeks additional information they will ask it (and sometimes they will forget to do so).
- Look Polished and Put Together: It is important, on the day of testimony, for the law enforcement officer to dress well, look polished and sit up straight during testimony. This is very helpful. A more polished police officer will be deemed more credible in most situations. A sharp police uniform, or suit (e.g. if assigned to detective duties), can do wonders about the believability of testimony.
There are many other tips and thoughts for the law enforcement officer who will be testifying in criminal, administrative or civil proceedings but these are some of the ones that come to mind given our practice in representing law enforcement officers over the years.
Law enforcement officers should keep updated on changes in law enforcement technology within their department and department policies regarding these types of devices. Law enforcement technology is changing so fast these days that an officer can potentially get into administrative trouble and need legal defense when department's technology outpaces their policies in handling or disclosing such information. Our law firm advises and represents law enforcement officers in disciplinary and civil matters. We can be contacted at Berrylegal.com or by telephone at (703) 668-0070. The Firm's Facebook page can be found here.