Testifying for the First Time (Plus a Giveaway of Sorts)

I am spending a lot of time this summer and fall teaching and writing about testifying (as well as actually consulting/testifying at trial), and I’m trying to add some new material to a couple of the presentations I do. So I figured I’d crowdsource this section…and offer up a service in exchange:

One of the things I do, but rarely publicize, is CV writing for clinicians who anticipate going to court. However, I have had a spate of questions about CV writing recently, so I figured I would mention it. I’m a firm believer in the art of CV writing; years of consulting on cases and wishing that the treating clinician had sent me their CV before the subpoena had ever arrived has shaped this belief. The reality is that there are CVs that elevate the credibility and stature of the witness, and CVs that (inadvertently) diminish the individual. Often CVs are the first impression you make with counsel, both government and defense. But there are things I regularly find in them that are simply inappropriate or worse. So I work with clinicians to write/edit CVs to demonstrate their various strengths on paper (see this post for a quick and dirty overview for those of you who want to craft your own).

If you’ve ever hired a resume/CV writing service, you know it can cost anywhere from $150-$1200 or more, so this is a pretty good deal–I’ll go ahead and donate CV writing services to one random FHO reader who responds to the following question (the service is transferable if you don’t need the help, but have someone in mind who does):

What do you wish someone had told you before you testified for the first time? (Alternatively, if you’ve never been to court: what is your biggest concern about testifying for the first time?)

Leave your response in the Comments section by noon ET, Friday July 8th to be eligible. Note, this offer is for the clinicians, only; apologies to the other disciplines who visit FHO. THIS GIVEAWAY IS NOW CLOSED.

If you are not chosen, not to worry, I have something for you, as well–FHO readers can take $50 off CV writing services through the end of July. Just copy the link to this post in your email to receive the discount.

Thanks in advance for the input!

14 replies on “Testifying for the First Time (Plus a Giveaway of Sorts)”

The first time I testified I did not have any trial prep with the prosecution; I just showed up the day of. I didn’t know where to sit and wait, I didn’t know where to stand to get sworn in, and I felt unprepared for a couple of questions that I was going to be asked. I now tell everyone who is testifying to make sure they set up a trial prep before the day of! (The second time I testified, I did request prep and it went SOOO much smoother, which gave me more confidence).

In testifying for the first time for a strangulation case. I’ve been on call for at least a dozen of them, but a plea was always taken. This will probably not be the case this time. This will be the first time for an expert to testify on strangulation in this county. It has to go well. I really need to fine tune my resume.

I have only testified one time and every time I think about I so wish I could have a “redo”. I had an excellent prep interview with the prosecution, so no complaints there. The one thing I wish someone would have told me was to “be myself”. I sounded like a robot, giving out very medically termed, prepared answers. I failed to make eye contact with the jury. I didn’t really smile. That is not me, I love to talk to people. I make eye contact with you when I’m talking. I smile. I have been practicing on how to be “human” in the courtroom 🙂

The first time I testified in court on a rape case was prior to becoming a SANE. It was the 1st kit I had done by myself. We were not given much training on collecting kits back then. When the defense asked me about the patient’s emotional state I had said she was crying but I did not check that on the paper, only calm & cooperative & he made it known that I didn’t check that box therefore I could not say that. Also he asked why cretain steps were done & I felt horrible because I didn’t know. So now that I am a SANE I always make sure I check my chart to make sure everything is checked that should be checked. I have now testified in 5 cases & since I know why & how we collect the evidence that we do I have come to like testifying.

Bring a book or something to read! I remember I had to wait for what seemed like forever to be called that 1st time. Fortunately, I had a good prep beforehand. I do wish that the attorneys from the prosecutor’s office had consulted with me more on potential medical aspects of the case/exam. I still feel that there is a wealth of information we as practitioners have that is often overlooked by legal and law enforcement agencies.

Looking back I wish I had appreciated that my testimony for one case is not limited to that case and may be utilized in a future trial. I also did not advocate for myself and my reputation by asserting my expectation to have pretrial preparation that is beneficial to the patient, prosecution and myself. This has now been written into our SART protocol. Lastly I would have discussed with my administrators and risk management ahead of time the expectation for time off prior to a trial. One early trial I was called to testify in I was given the day of the trial off, but I work night shift, so I went from work the night before directly to the courthouse. Understanding the importance of being prepared and well rested has been an investment in the future of my SANE career.

The first time I testified, was a long time ago, but I will never forget how nervous I was despite knowing my chart and practicing with a co-worker. Public speaking was never something I was good at. But, there are 2 things that I wish I had known that day. First, it is my job to EDUCATE the fact finders (jury, judge, panel) regarding who I am, what my role is and what I had done during my exam/time with my patient. It is not my role to “prove” anything. As soon as I figured that out testifying became so much easier.
And, if possible, bring a co-worker. He or she can observe and take notes regarding your testimony and the questions asked. This will go a long way in helping you (and your co-workers) improve. Mock trials are great, but nothing beats the real thing.

Take a deep breath and pause before answering a question. Truly listen to the question that is being asked. Don’t assume that you know the question because you discussed it in prep, but listen to the question and answer the question asked. If it is a “yes” or “no” question, answer with “yes”, “no” or “I don’t recall.” Don’t provide an explanation unless an explanation is requested. Sometimes less is more.
Also, treat the defensive attorney with the same respect that you gave the state’s attorney. You are not on anyone’s side, you are there to provide education and an explanation of what your process is as a healthcare provider. You are only one piece of the puzzle and it is not on your back to win or lose a case. Just explain your role and let the rest of the puzzle pieces fall where they may. You should not value yourself on your guilty record, but rather that you provided your patient with the best care possible.

I’ve been caring for patients who have experienced sexual assault since the late 80’s, and have yet been called to testify. I work >50 hours weekly as a forensic nurse. After spending decades preparing for the experience of testimony – my biggest concern is maintaining calm composure when I am finally called for the first time!

I was told not to wear heels, however no one ever told me that I would need something to calm my nervous tics. The first time I testified, apparently I was rocking my chair back and forth, and almost tipped it over. Now, I have my “court ring”, a larger loose ring that I can twist with my other hand on my lap that no one can see. Works like a charm!

I guess I wish I would have know several things before my first time testifying. First, I wish I would have been told that I am only one piece of the puzzle and thus one piece of the case….I feel like that would have helped me take some of the stress off myself. I think it would have been nice to know there is no possible way to be 100% prepared…as someone who likes to be ready for everything I felt so unprepared for court for years until I learned being prepared is to expect the unexpected as you never know what is going to be asked and the best way to be prepared is to know your practice and just answer what is asked. Lastly, the practical stuff like bring something to do, and dress in layers as the courtroom and hall is either very hot or very cold never in between and if you are on the stand for a prolonged period of time it is not good to be too hot or too cold as it is distracting

Trial prep with attorney, read your chart thoroughly and try and get a mental picture of the case. Even though each patient is unique and I may do steps in different sequences. I follow the same process every time. If I deviate for any reason, I document it. This way if you are asked, “how do you know you did such and such?” I can reply, “because I do it every time”. Also, instead of trying to remember technical terms to explain how TB dye or ALS works, explain it in layman’s terms. You are a nurse, therefore one of your nursing duties is education/teaching! Just explain it so they understand what you are talking about.
Listen to the entire question, take a deep breath before you answer if you need to. If you didn’t understand the question, don’t be afraid to ask them to repeat it. Look at the jury when you answer the question. Remain objective, just state the facts, plain and simple. If you don’t remember, just say so! Don’t make something up. Practice out loud! What is a SANE? What does that training include? What does a forensic exam consist of? What education do you have? How many exams have you done? By no means am I an expert, but these are things that helped me:)

One more thing……see as many trials as possible. It is always good to see how others testify. You can get tips on what to do and what NOT to do. See how the jury reacts. You can never see too much! Hope this helps.

I wish someone had told me to be 100% knowledgeable of my chart and not necessarily what my documentation said but to really look at the wording of the questions. Example: The chart asked if the patient had had pain since the assault. I knew that I always asked my patients if they were having pain now (time of the exam.) Their answers might have been different if I had asked the question correctly. Fortunately I was able to explain why this particular patient’s response to one provider was different than her response to me. I’ve testified several times and I have never testified and not learned something from the experience. I ask that question correctly now.

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