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How to Testify in Court

NCJ Number
Police: The Law Enforcement Magazine Volume: 30 Issue: 4 Dated: April 2006 Pages: 18-20,22
Ramesh Nyberg
Date Published
April 2006
4 pages
This article provides advice to police officers on how to prepare for and give testimony in court.
The author first advises officers that jurors will come into court with preconceived views of what police officers do based on television crime shows and other sources of inaccurate or incomplete information. In their testimony, officers must be clear and convincing about the tasks they have performed and the professionalism involved. The most important area of responsibility in which an officer's professionalism will be shown or undermined is the thoroughness and competence of work done at the crime scene and in dealing with the suspect. Tasks at the crime scene include roping it off and controlling access to it, so as to prevent contamination of and disturbing of evidence. Officers should document every action they take at the crime scene. It is better to provide too much detail than too little. Documentation of each contact with a suspect should be recorded, including the times and what the suspect was wearing. It is of critical legal importance to indicate whether or not the suspect was in custody at the time of an officer's contact with him/her. Knowing when to issue a Miranda warning and documentation of the time and conditions under which it is given are essential. This article also provides guidance to officers in presenting the results of an investigation to a prosecutor, such that he/she will be persuaded to proceed further. Guidance is also provided on the giving of pretrial depositions and the importance of studying deposition transcripts prior to giving trial testimony, so as to ensure consistency between deposition and trial testimony. Other issues addressed are pretrial preparation in consultation with the prosecutor and dress, conduct, and demeanor in answering questions at trial.