Tips on testifying in court - domestic violence

I would have liked to subtitle this “or, when I didn’t listen to the SDMB.”

My last relationship was a total disaster. Turns out, I was with a Bad Guy. Eventually I moved out after snooping and finding evidence that he was online flirting with other girls and complaining about me, but I kept seeing him for about a month afterwards. Eventually, he became convinced I was on the computer talking to other men and he smashed my laptop to pieces. He also threw my phone across the room and broke it so I couldn’t contact the police, threw me on the ground over his shoulder, kicked me, slammed the door on me when I was still on the ground, etc. Very scary. I eventually got away, ran to the landlord’s next door, and called police. He was arrested and charged with domestic violence and destruction of property. This was in October.

I currently have a no contact order in place, and have since then. He’s gone from my life, and when I see him at work (because I work about fifty feet from him), it’s as if he doesn’t exist. He’s gone from my life, and I’m sorry I didn’t listen to you guys last time!

Over the course of months, his lawyer postponed the case management conference over and over again until finally they had to make a decision about taking a plea agreement or not. It seemed to me like a fairly standard plea: he was offered diversion for a year as long as he paid me back for the laptop. Upon completion of diversion (involving counseling and drug/alcohol testing), the charges would be wiped from his record. I was fine with this. He and his lawyer would accept the plea if the prosecutor changed the charges from domestic violence to assault. This was rejected, the plea was withdrawn, and we go to trial October 6.

I know it’s REALLY early to be nervous about this, but I can’t help it entering my head at times. The night of the event, I went home and wrote down every single detail of what happened, so I know my memories of the event won’t be fuzzy. However, his lawyer is very intimidating. He’s a fairly big name lawyer around these parts, and I’m afraid of him questioning me. I’m afraid I will do something wrong and cause my ex to walk away scot-free. The victim advocates have been terrible, including mixing up my case number and causing me to miss one of the many case management conferences.

Has anyone else had this experience? Can anyone share any pointers? By the way, I’m much better now. I went into therapy, I have friends, I have a wonderful boyfriend now who spoils me every day. Life is good for me these days :slight_smile:

Don’t let him rush you. Speak slowly and clearly and pause as many times as you need to. Quite frankly, the more his lawyer bullies you, the more sympathy you will garner if you don’t let him make you sound hysterical or confused. Just speak the truth as calmly as possible…

I haven’t been in this situation but I’m glad you ended things with that guy. I was very concerned when you started posting again recently that the boyfriend you talked about in your latest post was the same guy I remembered you had described as a controlling asshole.

I am curious: Is your employer aware of the situation? Is there anything that could be done to transfer to a different job so you don’t have to see him all the time? Since this guy has demonstrated that he doesn’t have good control of his anger, I would be worried that he might try to do something again in the future if you have to keep seeing him every day as the trial goes on.

My suggestions are as following;

  1. Talk slowly and calmly. If you sound hyper, confused, rushed, or flustered, it will be easy for his lawyer to pick up on this and use your weaknesses against you. Lawyers are like sharks in the water… the second there is blood, they’re right there to swallow you up.

  2. Do not cry. Often times, crying in court will not get you sympathy but will make your story sound exaggerated or partly false.

  3. Stick to the cold, hard facts. What he did to you, and when. Make sure to only mention events that are pertinent. If you bring up anything about his behavior or decisions unrelated to the case in order to make him look bad, it will reflect poorly on you.

I’ve not been in your exact position, but I have had to testify in court before. LISTEN to the question carefully and answer as straightforwardly and calmly as possible. If you don’t understand the question, ask him to repeat or rephrase. Keep your eyes on the ex’s attorney when he is talking to you, he’s the most dangerous person in the courtroom at this point. (I’m assuming your ex isn’t dumb enough to hit you in the actual courtroom) Take a moment to gather your thoughts before you answer. Most importantly, tell the truth. Don’t exaggerate or embellish.

Good luck!

Thank you guys for the advice. Will testifying be like it is in the movies? Specifically, I mean will his lawyer act like that much of an asshole to me? I don’t want to get flustered and then make a stupid mistake.

My employer is definitely aware. I cannot transfer to another department at this time, openings are few and far between. My employer is also very careful about being respectful to BOTH of us, as ridiculous as I think this is. The reason why I never got a restraining order is because I am afraid I will be let go if I make problems with other coworkers, even though I was the victim.

Finally, a question. Will he be put on trial in front of a jury, or just the judge? I don’t know how I would know that.

A technique that’s being used w/ some effectiveness w/ veterans suffering PTSD may help you keep from becoming flustered, upset and sobbing, etc; record yourself telling the story of what happened. Listen to it over and over again. For me crying comes from being surprised at how something hurts or scares me and the more you go through the same thing the less it will surprise or scare you.
When you’re being cross-examined, rather than look away from or meet the eyes of the defense attorney, try to focus on one of his ears. It’ll distract you a little to do this but keep you looking his direction and looking unashamed to be saying what it is you’re saying.
I’m sorry the advocate has let you down; they’re swamped but that’s no good excuse. Prepare yourself by practicing, going to the courtroom at an off time so you’re acquainted w/ the layout and while you’re there ask the clerk whether it will be a bench or jury trial.
Be strong, you can do this and stop him from doing it again to someone else.

I’m just curious, what is the reason he would want the distinction, do you know? Is there some sort of advantage to have an assault vs domestic on his record?

As to the trial, I think most people are nervous and I think it’s okay to show that. The one time I had to testify in court, the advice I was given was to listen carefully to the question and answer only that question.

For instance, if you were asked if John is your cousin and he is, then the correct response would be yes. As opposed to yes, on my mothers side. Don’t offer anything extra.

I had a heck of a time with that. I do like to chat.

Good luck. Let us know how it goes. I’m glad you are safely out of that situation.

It was a long time ago but I was in your position. Things may have changed a bit.
You still have almost 3 months to go, the closer it gets to the trial date he may decide to accept the plea.

There was no jury, I was never questioned by his lawyer, only by the judge. It was more like you what would see on Night Court, we stood in front of the bench and it took barely 5 minutes. His lawyer had all the details laid out and as long as I agreed to them and the judge approved that was it, over and done.
I saw other domestic cases and they were all about the same.

If the jurisdiction you’re in allows it, go to the courthouse one day and watch a few cases. When I lived in the city anybody could walk into the courtroom and sit down. When I lived in a rural county everybody had to wait in the hall and only the people relevant to the case could go in the courtroom.

  1. It could always end up pleading closer to the date of the trial, if that helps take the edge off a little bit. It doesn’t sound like there’s much reason for this to go to trial. As far as jury trial vs. just the judge, do you have a scheduling order from the court? It would probably say what kind of trial is scheduled.

  2. Seriously, you’ll be fine.

It might feel like the movies to you, and the lawyer might be pushy. But s/he might not; you might get somebody who approaches it like I did, who just wants to get a series of yes/nos on the record and move on. Either way, though, you shouldn’t feel like all of this depends on how you “do” on cross. You aren’t prosecuting the case. You won’t do anything wrong. You’re just there to report what happened, so you’ll just do that, and it’ll be fine.

  1. I think this is an important one: don’t even worry about what you think his attorney is getting at. Even where you think the answer to a question is going to be suggestive or misleading, all you have to do is think about it and give a short and sweet answer. There’s a strong tendency not to want to give anything up to somebody who’s obviously in an adversarial position to yours, but that’s a tendency that can be exploited. The trick is to agree, where you need to, like it couldn’t even possibly matter. If you don’t know the answer, or there’s some inconsistency you have to acknowledge, or if something might make you look a little bad in some overall sense, so what? You don’t have to correct or anticipate the argument you think is being developed or spar with the attorney about it. They want you talking; that’s why they asked. So don’t. It’s usually just the attorney fishing for a way to score points, which they won’t if you don’t play along. Second of all, if there’s anything else that needs to come out, there will be an opportunity to bring it out when you’re asked about it in a friendly way on re-direct. You don’t have to strategize; just the facts, ma’am. You’re a little fact-reporting robot. You can’t imagine why you’d even be asked about all this extraneous stuff, but sure, here’s the answers, boop bop beep.

Fictional example: “on Christmas Day 1997, did you say you felt like slapping my client?” The wrong answer is: “Oh, the Christmas when his trashy little friend Destiny called my sister a whore? The Christmas when I waited for two hours at my mom’s house while he was drinking down at” etc. etc. The right answer is “Yes” or “No” or “I don’t remember.” Even if it’s yes, who gives a shit? Move on, counselor.

  1. The judge, attorneys, courtroom staff and the jury, if applicable, are all human beings, and they can see what’s going on. A courtroom can seem like a cold, unforgiving kind of place while everyone has a game face on, but you’re not in there alone and the weight of the world isn’t on your shoulders. If you go up there and tell your story, they’ll hear you, and you’ll have no way of knowing it, but they’ll be proud of you for it. Not even the defense attorney (most of the time, anyway) is really on a batterer’s side when it comes down to it. When he’s guilty, he’s guilty. You’ll be fine.

Treat it like it’s all business and nothing more. That’s what I tell myself when I feel jittery about confrontation.

Wishing you peace. Love thyself x 10.

In general no one on either side wants to go to trial. There is still a good chance it won’t. If things went the way you say it did I wouldn’t want to go to trial if I were the defendant. Despite what you see on TV, a high powered lawyer doesn’t want to go to trial with an obvious loser.

A domestic violence conviction is a bar to legal firearm ownership.

Meggroll, who in this case is working on your side? Does the prosecutor seem to be serious and competent and determined? Do you have a lawyer working for you, and if so, same questions about him. This sounds seriously concern-worthy:

Are these advocates too overworked and underpaid, or dufuses (dufi?) or what? Are they really trying to be helpful, or just trying to get out to lunch on time?

Is there plenty of physical evidence? Are the shards of your busted-up computer still around, to be brought out for show-and-tell? The busted telephone? Pictures of any other property damage? Did the cops on the scene collect and preserve all the physical evidence, and pictures, and fingerprints and whatnot?

Did you see a doctor for your injuries? Were you taken away from the scene in an ambulance? Do you have all the records from all these things? Do your so-called victim advocates (and/or your lawyer and/or the prosecutor) really seem to be building a case?

Based only on your remarks about the advocates, I have a bad feeling about this.

Lots of good advice. Here’s my guide to testifying successfully:

1 - just the facts. Your only job is to relate the facts as best as you can recall. If you can’t remember something, just say that. Stick to the cold hard facts of what you know.

2 - don’t worry about the defense counsel’s questions on your cross. It’s not your job to argue the case or anticipate anything. It’s the prosecutor’s job to counter any defense arguments. Repeat: just give them the facts. Yes or no. Don’t worry about getting caught or trapped into saying something “wrong”. Also, realize that sometimes if you are getting beat up on the stand, the prosecutor is making a tactical choice not to intervene. It’s not your job to worry about that. Continue to answer each question as accurately and factually as possible without worrying about whether it hurts or helps the case.

3 - be nice. To everybody. The prosecutor. The defense counsel. The judge. And the court staff.

There is no step 4. If you do these three things, you will be absolutely fine.

Remember that although the attorney for the defense will be asking you questions, each answer is an opportunity to communicate with OTHER people present in the courtroom. Answer the questions but talk to THEM.

I am a lawyer and the most important thing is to relax and answer the question asked. it’s amazing how many people forget that. Don’t go off on a tangent, don’t give unnecessary elaborations. And for gods sake, do not try to be evasive.

When the prosecutor examines you (I presume you are from the prosecution) he will ask you general non leading questions. That is your chance to tell your story. Tell it as succinctly as possible. Give them just the facts, do not give opinions or feelings unless asked. The prosecutor will guide you and follow his/her guidance.

When you are cross examined by the defense counsel, remember he will be asking you leading questions. He will already know what the answer to them will be, his job is to discredit your testimony. He will be polite and courteous (if he is a good lawyer). Do NOT become evasive and do not give him any unnecessary answer, he can then ask you to elaborate on that.

Finally, just be yourself, this hoary old cliche is a cliche for some reason.

It also sounds a whole lot worse - I can think of examples of ways you could get an assault on your record that are better or that are worse when it comes to your worth as a person or your employability. “Domestic violence”, not so much.

The most important thing you can do, I feel, is: don’t argue with the defense attorney. You’re the good guy, the straight shooter. He’ll want to rattle you, get you to raise your voice, make you seem like the irrational one. Don’t let him.

Are you going to have a “jury trial” or a “bench trial”? A bench trial means (I think) that it’s just you guys and your lawyers in front of a judge. A jury trial is more drawn-out and tv-like. I don’t think you should worry TOO much about being treated like an adversary, though. If the guy asks a question that’s irrelevant or tries to badger you, your lawyer will raise an objection (Irrelevant! Badgering the witness! etc) and you won’t have to answer it. Just stick to the facts, be brief and concise, and don’t be afraid to take a deep breath and speak slowly and deliberately. Think the answer in your head before you say it, to make sure you don’t say the wrong thing.

The only exception to that is if the attorney is granted permission to treat you as a hostile witness. I really can’t see that happening, unless you refuse to answer his questions or tell an obvious lie.

I remember your old threads, I’m sorry too that you didn’t get out before things escalated. But, after they DID escalate, I’m glad you left. Because lots of women DO stay, no matter how ridiculous the physical violence and property destruction become, and I’m glad you found the strength to throw his ass to the curb. I hope you spent some time single and in therapy before starting another relationship. If you haven’t gone for any counseling, please do. And good luck :slight_smile: