A deposition is one of the tools Lawyers use in the discovery period of a legal action.This discovery period allows both sides to use a number of different tools to determine what evidence exists to help the attorneys to prove or disprove the legal claim. If you would like more information on Discovery as a whole, please see the article titled What in the heck is Discovery?
The cornerstone of discovery is the deposition. Depositions are statements made on the record in front of a court reporter, but not in a court room. They are most commonly done in one of the attorneys’ offices. A deposition involves the attorney taking the deposition, the deponent (the party being deposed), the attorney defending the deponent, and the court reported taking it down for the record. Thereare many strategies and styles of deposition, including certain tactics and skillsets. This information could fill a book, and in fact has, there are many legal books with the sole subject matter of depositions. These are more for attorneys, and as a plaintiff or defendant it’s more important to know how to properly handle yourself while being deposed. These are a few things you can do to make sure your deposition goes well.
1. Always tell the truth, remember that you are under oath. If you are trying to maintain a lie in a deposition it will more than likely come out. The attorney will see an inconsistency and expose the lie, once you have lied under oath your credibility on the stand is ruined, so never lie under oath in a deposition. Honestly, you probably shouldn’t lie in your personal life either, but this is not supposed to be a life lesson in morality. Remember, it is illegal to lie under oath.
-Do not lie under oath.
2. Try to answer your questions with the least amount of information as possible, if this means a yes or no will suffice then that is okay. For instance, if you are asked the question “were you at the party?” You could properly answer with a yes or a no.It would be bad to explain all the details about when you got there what time your car picked you up, who you saw, and every little detail, when all you were asked is ifyou were at a party. If the question requires some explanation then do it as short aspossible, do not ramble on, as illustrated above, the more you give them the more information they have to work with. This is similar to when you call a credit card company to pay your bill, or a medical collections company and they say “We are a debt collector anything said to us can be used to collect a debt,” which, just in case you have wondered, is required by federal law. Then the debt collector asks where you work and if you have any other phone numbers, or additional information abouta bunch of things. Free tip, with a debt collector you never have to give them any ofthis extra information, and simply say I decline to answer and would like to pay my bill. They are just putting any information they can get from you into a database to use in case they need to collect any future debts! A deposition is similar except you actually have to answer their questions, but what you can do is simply answer the question in the shortest possible way.
-Never offer extra information that was not solicited.
Lawyers are as a group of people have their own style of speaking; most people refer to it as legalese. If you are in a deposition and you get a question with a word you do not understand, or a question that is just overly complicated, then tell them you don’t understand and ask them to repeat the question. It is a lot easier to ask them to repeat the question then to back peddle later and say your earlier answer was not what you meant.
-If you do not understand what they are asking, do not attempt to answer the question.
A good rule of thumb is to allow the attorney to finish the question, wait 3-5 seconds and then answer. This will do a few things, it will allow your attorney to think about the question and decide if they should object to the question, it will allow you to put together a good answer, and it will keep the deposition at the pace you want, slow and steady.
-Wait a few seconds before you answer.
This is one that is very important, always listen to your attorney, if they begin to saysomething, immediately stop talking. This can be an objection to the question, or it can be a question about privileged information, the best thing to do is simply stop talking as soon as they start. Remember, it is the job of your attorney to protect you, and in depositions it can be from not only the other attorney, but from yourself as well.
-As soon as your attorney begins to say something, immediately stop speaking.
Do not get stressed out and emotional. This is the ideal situation for the opposing attorney, as soon as they have you emotional and on the ropes, then you are answering from a place of emotion and not a place of logic. In these moments people can blurt out things out of anger just to shut-up the other attorney. Not thinking about your answer and blurting out something that can be taken more thanone way can have a large impact on the quality of your case. This can really hurt your case, it happens and is commonly used by police to get confessions, but in the end this method also tends to produce false confessions. A good technique is to follow the rule above, and allow some time to pass so you do not say something that is not a well thought out answer. To illustrate this, think of how many stupid things that weren’t true have you said to a partner or love interest while in an intense fight, but you did so because you were in an emotional state. The same can happen in a deposition, the difference is it is hard to get things like sarcasm, anger and other emotions down in a transcription. If you sarcastically said the following statement “Yeah…..I shot my neighbors dog!” just because you were annoyed at the attorney asking such a dumb question, remember that when this is read in the courtroom it will be read out loud without the proper inflection and will simply sound like you are admitting to shooting your neighbor’s dog.
-Keep cool and unemotional, if you start getting frustrated ask your attorney for a break.
Finally, something that people feel very strange about, and something that people seem to hate doing. If the attorney asks you about something that you do not know about, simply answer I do not know, or I can’t remember. Never try to piecemeal together something that you think might have happened but are unsure of. Also, never provide an answer because you think you have to answer the question. Do not be afraid to say “I do not know,”.
-If you do not know the answer, then say “I DO NOT KNOW”