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On the Spot: Testifying in Court for Law Enforcement Officers

NCJ Number
FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin Volume: 75 Issue: 10 Dated: October 2006 Pages: 1-7
Laurence Miller Ph.D.
Date Published
October 2006
7 pages
This article discusses the types of testimony a police officer will typically give in court, how to prepare for testimony, conduct, and demeanor while on the witness stand, and officer testimony when he/she is a defendant.
A police officer may be a "fact witness" when testifying about personal knowledge of events that pertain to a case or an "expert witness" when offering his/her opinion on some facet of a case based on his/her knowledge and experience as a law enforcement officer. In the course of their duties, officers should keep thorough, well-organized, and clear records of what they observed and actions they took. This is necessary if officers are to provide accurate, detailed, and clear testimony about events and actions in which they were involved months ago. While on the stand, officers should have a general attitude of professional confidence without appearing "cocky." They should sit straight and close enough to the microphone to not have to lean forward for each answer. Officers should look at the attorney when questions are being asked but then turn to look at the jury when answering the question. Officers should make sure they understand the question before carefully composing their answers. Although the general principles of testifying apply if an officer is testifying as a defendant, he/she should be more deferential and humble while on the stand compared to his/her demeanor as a fact or expert witness. If a defendant officer is involved in psychological counseling in connection with the case, an attorney should first be consulted about what sorts of information revealed in counseling may be admissible at trial. 5 notes