As with almost anything in life, preparation makes all the difference. This certainly is the case when it comes to court proceeding, specifically for witness testimonies.
To talk about witness preparation are Michelle Welch and Amy Taylor. They work together at the Animal Law Unit of the Virginia Attorney General’s Office. Michelle is a Senior Assistant Attorney and is the Anima Law Unit’s Director. In her role, she is at the forefront of Virginia’s animal law initiatives and issues, acting as a special prosecutor in its animal cruelty and fighting cases. Meanwhile, Amy is an investigator for the Animal Law Unit and the President and Founder of the Ring Dog Rescue. A nationally certified Animal Control Officer for 15 years, Amy’s investigated and been on scene on numerous cases of animal fighting.
Michelle and Amy provided pointers for expert witnesses before, during, and after testifying in court. Some of the things they specified in this session are:
- The importance of preparation in troubleshooting defenses on cross-examination.
- Presentation of evidence: How preparation and collaboration between prosecutors and experts can make a difference in each of the steps.
- Guidelines for expert witnesses on their behavior, mindset and how to remain confident, professional and organized during the proceeding.
- Specific tips during the direct and cross-examination that highlights the importance of:
- Concise, clear and straightforward responses to questions.
- The prosecution’s attentiveness throughout the presentation of evidence.
- Understanding the procedures and rules observed in court.
- Collaboration between the expert and prosecutor and educating each other on concepts that both must be aware of.
- Having resources available when needed.
- The required education, training, and experience to be qualified as an expert witness for a case.
- Pointers for the prosecutor on how to
- Organize direct examination of expert witnesses particularly those for large cases.
- Establish credibility by getting expert witnesses to explain the procedures conducted.
- Address in the direct or re-direct points that defense will potentially bring up.
- The two case laws that established the qualification of underlying science to the expert’s opinion.
- Techniques to overcome the most common defense tricks during cross-examination.
- How building and fostering good working relationships between prosecutors and experts can result in better testimonies and case outcomes.
- Debriefing after the case to prepare when testifying in the future.
Questions from the audience were about:
- Gaining experience as an expert witness.
- Parties that can help one prepare for cross-examination.
- Dealing with a defense attorney who keeps on asking hypotheticals.
- Funding sources and other tips to secure the aid of an expert witness.
- Handling disrespectful remarks from a defense attorney.
- “Huge fan of these! Such a great resource and appreciate the JCH’s attention to animal-related matters!” — Hannah
- “This material was likely very helpful to newer prosecutors and newer expert witnesses. It was not really what I expected – as a prosecutor with 27 years of experience, I found that it was pretty much what I already do with my experts. But I think it is important info for newer folks!!!” — Bonnie
- “It was great to hear very fundamental methods of practice.” — Christina
- “A good webinar to keep on hand to show people joining your department, that have not gone to court before. A way to help prepare them for what they might undergo in court.” — Shirley
- “I really enjoyed this one. It had a lot of good material and reminders of what to do and what not to do.” — Gina
- “Instructors were excellent and hit on a lot of different points that are all useful.” — James
- “Great presenters: knowledgeable and experienced. Thank you for this presentation.” — JORGE
- “I appreciate how informative it was. It helped me to understand that we must remember that we are the expert and we need to be confident while answering questions. I also understand that it is imperative we remain clear during testimony and refrain from using words like I believe or possibly. Thank you.” — Roxanne
- “What to tell my witnesses before testifying.” — Sydney
- “Both presenters are very knowledgeable and easy to relate to. Information provided was relevant and they were enjoyable to listen to.” — Thomas