13 Pro Tips for Police Officers Testifying in Court

blogs, news -

13 Pro Tips for Police Officers Testifying in Court

home > blog articles > 13 pro tips for police officers testifying in court

 

 Brian Humenuk | Author | COPJOT

By Brian Humenuk, MS|CJA, COPJOT

Updated on December 30, 2023

5-minute read or less

 

For many new police officers who are pulling in arrests faster than the New England Patriots were winning super bowls during the Tom Brady / Bill Belichick era, court testimony for those arrests will loom.

Yes, you guessed it I am a New Englander.

But I am not on your screen to talk about the Patriots, I am talking to you today about potentially making you a better police witness.

Who am I and why am I worthy of telling you about my experience in the courtroom

I'm an active veteran police leader who's attained three criminal justice degrees with the last being a Masters of Science in Criminal Justice Administration. I've logged hundreds of hours under the roofs of the district and superior courts as well as testified in cases of all sizes.

I am a person who collectively takes the great traits of many to carve my own success as both a Police Officer and as a solo-preneur and business owner of COPJOT.com.

I believe in this process.

As great as we all believe that we are, especially as law enforcement officers, there are so many talented individuals in our profession who we can learn from.

With that said:

Through observation and testifying I have learned a lot along my career journey. I enjoy passing on that valuable knowledge, like the 15 pro tips for police officers testifying in court, to the newer law enforcement officers who are breaking into the field. 

If you are a veteran police officer and have struggled testifying in court you are not alone.

It took me many years to start to feel comfortable on the witness stand and a lot of that was a change in mindset as you will see in many of my Pro Tips.

If you have found yourself here looking for information on testifying as a witness, you are in luck. Keep reading. There is a lot of valuable information here for you.

What is Testifying in Court?

Testifying in court is the act of providing testimony or evidence as a witness during a legal proceeding, typically in a court of law.

Testifying is an essential part of the legal process and plays a critical role in the presentation of evidence and the determination of facts by the judge or jury.

Witnesses, including individuals with firsthand knowledge of events, experts, or those who can provide relevant information, are called to testify to help establish the truth in a case.

Testifying in Court as a Police Officer

You grind through the police academy having taken all of my advice on what police boots might be best for the police academy, what duty bags you should consider for patrol and you may have even wrote a to/from using my article on the history of Miranda Rights.

Well now I'm here, back in your life, helping you to understand that all that arrest activity you piled up when you were set free like a bulldog in a treat factory is going to loom over you like the morning mist on the Ring of Kerry.

As you start getting summoned to court and showing up in your best business attire your ears will be fine tuned to the words spoken by the prosecution, "Ready for Trial your Honor."

What comes next is an O-hh face along with the feeling of your first little league at bat every opening day. Do you remember that feeling? I sure do!

Be Patient, Your turn to Testify will come

For some officers it could take five years or more to make it to the witness stand and raise your right hand. This is especially true for law enforcement officer working in slower communities and districts.

For others that time frame could be much shorter.

The inner workings of the road to justice is a long road full of twists and turns. Only about 2% - 5% of criminal cases make it to trial so this is why it might take an officer 5 years or more to see the witness chair.

More often than not you will be called in to court so that the prosecution may call themselves ready for trial to the judge. This looks good and places the burden on the defense to also claim they are ready and it also puts them on notice that the key witnesses are present.

If all witnesses are present then a guilty plea by the defendant might be next. Other times you will be called in order to testify in a motion to suppress evidence or a confession or a motion to dismiss the case entirely.

Testifying in Court as a Witness 

Testifying in court as a witness is a fundamental aspect of the legal system, involving the presentation of firsthand accounts and relevant information to aid in the determination of facts.

Witness testimony, if proven reliable by a jury or a judge at a bench trial, can carry a large amount of weight in deciding cases.

Police Officers are much of the time considered inherently reliable people which is why they must never engage in criminal activity or even give question that they have engaged in criminal activity.

OK, back to testifying in court as a witness.

Witnesses are typically called to testify by either the prosecution or defense, each aiming to support their respective cases.

Once sworn in under oath or affirmation, witnesses undergo direct examination, during which the party calling them asks questions to elicit information that supports their legal arguments.

Subsequently, the opposing party has the opportunity to cross-examine the witness, probing for inconsistencies or seeking clarifications.

The judge plays a pivotal role in ensuring the relevance and admissibility of testimony, ruling on objections, and overseeing the overall conduct of the proceedings.

Witnesses may be ordinary individuals with personal knowledge of events or experts in specific fields offering their opinions.

Throughout the process, the credibility of witnesses can be challenged through impeachment, where inconsistencies in their statements or factors affecting their reliability are scrutinized.

The testimony provided contributes to the body of evidence considered by the judge or jury, ultimately influencing the outcome of the legal proceedings.

Overall, testifying as a witness demands a commitment to truthfulness and plays a vital role in the pursuit of justice within the legal system.

For the newer officers that can't identify this classic movie from 1992 I wanted to give some advice to you from a person who has walked a few miles in your duty boots.

15 Tips for Testifying in Court

For anybody that has received a summons to appear in court to give testimony as a witness you may be experiencing some nervousness. This is normal. Just do your best to prepare and remain calm. This nervousness will end once you get called to the witness stand and give your truthful testimony. 

From there you will have very little control over which way justice will go.

If however, you are not truthful in your testimony, that nervousness will continue for quite some time.

The following Testifying in Court Tips and 4 PRO TIPS will NOT tell you how to specifically answer questions however it will definitely shed some light on the journey you are about to take and how you can be your best in court and testifying in court.

TIP # TIPS FOR POLICE OFFICERS TESTIFYING IN COURT
1 You will be nervous. Actually, you should be nervous it’s just basic human instinct to be in such an official setting where there are such large consequences being decided on.

2
Preparation is the key to success. Your testimony as a rookie officer will differ from that of a veteran officer.

A defense attorney may take a case to trial based on your years of service
and the police report, or lack of experience and poor police report, that you submit.
3 Know the case inside and out. This starts with what you put down in your police report but the accuracy of that report all started when you took out your COPJOT Police Notebook and started taking down notes.
4 Your police report is a summary of facts. Remember that. It is a summary not a word for word exact novel of what happened. Read over your police report narrative about 5 times before taking the stand.
PRO TIP If you haven't read my article on "How to write a Police Report: A Step-by-Step Guide" you should do that after you read this article.

5
You should be dressed in business attire. If you go overkill with your attire, it may smell like bait to a seasoned shark so don't go overboard. It is important to look good but it is more important how you carry yourself. A good attorney will spot a nervous sloppy police officer a mile away.

6
DO NOT wear a dress shirt with a tight collar or a tight neck tie. Make sure the collar on your shirt and your neck tie are loose because when you get nervous during cross examination your throat will start to play tricks on your voice.
7 Whenever a judge addresses you in court and you are NOT sitting at the witness stand, you must stand up and look him or her in the eyes while speaking. Be polite and respectful.

8
While on the witness stand keep your hands folded in your lap and DON'T speak using your hands and arms. When you speak, move your head slightly to the microphone keeping a firm positive posture and speak clearly. Not softly or loud, clearly.



9
Your court record regarding your character and integrity starts with how you treat people, how well your police report is written, and how you carry yourself in the community and the courthouse. This is especially true in smaller communities and districts.

Tell the truth even when it hurts your case. Tell the truth even if it sets a person free.

Your character and integrity will eventually be attached to your last name. If you have a good reputation that will carry into your court cases and if you have a bad reputation that will carry with you as well.

10

Should you look at a jury when you testify?

Yes. If you are talking to a jury, face them and speak to each one of the jurors’ eyes. If it is a bench trial speak to the judge and make eye contact.

PRO TIP Speaking to the eyes of people shows confidence and truthfulness. Making eye contact with jurors and judges puts your testimony on a personal level and they feel engaged. and inclined to listen to you.


11
I can’t stress telling the truth enough. Enough so that I had to mention it 3-4 times. If your case is junk tell the truth. If you made a mistake, tell the truth. If you screwed up in your police report, tell the truth. If you do not tell the truth eventually someone will pick up on it and your court character and integrity will be useless and your career could be in serious jeopardy.
PRO TIP Read my article on "What is a Brady Violation" where I dive into exculpatory evidence and how that could effect the prosecution of your arrests.
12 The most important part of all of this is that it is just as important to set an innocent man free as it is to convict a guilty one.

13
If you cannot remember something, ask for a moment to refresh your memory by reading your police report. If the information or answer to the question is not in your police report state that you can not remember or you can’t recall.


PRO TIP
One of the best pieces of advice given to me by the defense attorney after my first testimony was, “listen kid there is nothing personal about this. I make money because you are here. You make money because I am here. We are both here to do a job and sometimes that job gets messy but at the end of the day we can be friends”. That was the absolute truth.

14
If your case is at the superior court level then you will need to prepare even more. Superior court cases are very serious and many of the attorneys know very well what they are doing. They are smart and they have been there before. My worst time on the witness stand came during a motion to suppress in superior court.





15
If you find yourself under cross-examination and you are agreeing to everything the defense attorney is asking you, there's a problem.

For instance:

Officer, isn't it true that my client told you he only had two beers that night? Correct. And Officer, is it also true that my client didn't violate any other traffic laws until the one you pulled him over for? Correct. This will go on and on if you let it.

Like during a basketball game when one side has 10 unanswered points, the coach has to call a time out in order to stop the momentum. You have to do the same but find a truthful way of disagreeing with the attorney to bring pause to the jury hearing every word out of your mouth be "correct."

PRO TIP
There may be a time or two when a lawyer or judge takes a swipe at your character or integrity. As long as you have told the truth you did your job and the rest of it is just courtroom theatrics. Don't take it personally.

 

Your preparation with testifying in court will start with the your interviewing skills and the quality of your note taking.

Your case all starts with what type of information you decide to write down on your COPJOT Police Notepad.

When you get to the scene of a crime and start to develop the seriousness of injuries, value of stolen money or goods, damage to property and potential charges you should be able to gauge how much detail your going to have to write in your police report. Ask questions and write your detailed notes as if you were being questioned in court about the case.

Don't be the officer that is typing your report while reading the smeared ink off of a latex glove or even your hand. As crazy as this sounds this does happen.

Sloppiness leads to inefficiency and you will reap those rewards on the witness stand. So do yourself a favor and keep a good notebook and a set of pens on you at all times during your shift.

About the Author

Brian Humenuk isn't just an entrepreneur in eCommerce, he is also an informed leader whose experience provides followers and visitors with a look into current and past police issues making headlines in the United States.

Brian has earned three degrees in Criminal Justice with the last, a Masters of Science in Criminal Justice Administration.

Brian extends his training, education, and experience to the officers just now getting into the field so that they may become more informed police officers and stay clear of police misconduct and corruption. 

You can find out more about Brian and the COPJOT story on the ABOUT US page.

More Information

Are you a Police Officer, Sheriff or State Trooper, Law Enforcement family member or friend check out our Custom Police Notebooks and Metal Police Uniform Pens here on our main website.

Publishing significant Police related blog articles is not the only great thing we do. We manufacture, customize and personalize Custom Police Notebooks and Notepads for Police Officers and law enforcement agencies worldwide.

Related Articles

Understanding Miranda Rights in 5 minutes

Police Report Writing Tips

Brady Violations and what they mean for Law Enforcement Officers


Tags

x
x