West Virginia Record

Friday, July 19, 2019

ALL THINGS JURY: The importance of key witnesses

By R. Robert Samples | Mar 11, 2008

You are about to call your "key" witness to the stand. How confident are you that jurors will react favorably? Without extensive preparation, you can't be sure.

This witness could make or break the case. A verdict in your favor can only result if your witnesses are credible and tell their story in an articulate and empathetic manner.

One of the most important elements of any jury trial is how jurors, and the bench, react to key witnesses in a case. This is especially important in terms of the primary plaintiff and defense witnesses. They are the ones that carry the day (or not). The jury panel's exposure to key witnesses is an absolute crucial element to the outcome of a trial.

Therefore, preparing key witnesses for trial is extremely important. Attorneys and communications consultants must take an active role in helping key witnesses prepare to effectively relay the facts of the case. Witnesses must be able to understand the primary facts and issues, while making sure important details are provided. Helping witnesses prepare for a trial involves assessing their communications skills and accentuating the positive aspects of their abilities while developing a plan to augment specific weaknesses.

Witnesses often need assistance to ensure they maintain chronological order of events. They also need to understand how to speak concisely while being able to discuss important details of the story. Witnesses also need to anticipate potential questions the jury may have – as jurors do not have the chance to ask their own questions.

Sincerity and honesty are the keys to eliciting compassion and understanding from the jury. The witness must show an attitude that elicits compassion and understanding from the jury. Only when a witness can articulate their testimony as if they are in the courtroom, and come across as "real," can they truly be effective.

Litigators and communication experts must work closely with witnesses to help them accomplish these goals. How is this done? Working with the witness on camera is a tried and true method. An initial session of putting the witness "on the stand" without giving them any preparation, is an excellent way to start. This provides a baseline from which to begin analyzing their communication skills and building from there. Additional mock testimonies are then conducted until the witness has a good comfort level with telling the facts of the story.

If at all practical or feasible, all witness depositions should be video recorded. This is useful in order to work with and prepare key witnesses, while providing an opportunity to review your opponent's key witnesses – looking for the chance to exploit where they are not doing the best job on telling the facts.

Samples is president of RMS Strategies, a communications and opinion research agency headquartered in Charleston. RMS Strategies has extensive crises communications, counseling and litigation research experience and has worked for clients throughout the nation during the last 25 years. They can be contacted at 304.343.7655 or www.rmsstrategies.com.

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