Police Court Testimony – What might you face in the eyes of justice
Updated on September 1, 2022
8 minute read
For may new police officers who are pulling in arrests faster than the New England Patriots were winning super bowls in the early years of the Bill Belichick era, court testimony for those arrests will loom. Yes, you guessed it I am a New Englander.
Be patient: Your turn will come
For some officers it could take five years or more to make it to the witness stand and raise your right hand. For others that timeframe 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.
13 Tips for Police Officers Testifying in Court
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 in your shoes. The following will not tell you how to specifically answer questions however it will definitely shed some light on the journey you are about to take. With that said when it comes time for your first testimony under oath there are some things that you need to know.
- You will be nervous. Actually, you should be nervous it’s just basic human instinct.
- Preparation is the key to success. Your testimony as a rookie officer will definitely differ from being a veteran officer. Actually, a defense attorney may take a case to trial based on your years of service and the police report, or lack of police report, that you submit.
- 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.
- Your police report is a summary of facts. Remember that. It is a summary not a word for word exact novel of what happened.
- You learned this in the police academy but you should be dressed in business attire. 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.
- Your court record regarding your character and integrity starts here. Tell the truth even when it hurts your case. Tell the truth even if it sets a person free.
- Speak clearly so that everyone can hear you. Speak loud enough so that everyone can hear you. If you are talking to a jury face them and speak to each one of the jurors’ eyes. If it is a bench trial you are at speak to the judge and make eye contact.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- In the end don’t take it personal. Don’t show disgust. Move on and go make another arrest. As the years tick by you will look back on your rookie years and the testimony that you gave and laugh. You will become much more comfortable and speak clearer and more concise. A lot of that has to do with getting to know the players in court, the defense attorneys, the judges and building your credibility.
Your preparation with testifying in court starts with 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. 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.
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