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Despite more than a decade of intended reform, the nation's foster care system is still overcrowded and rife with problems. But taxpayers are spending $22 billion a year - or $40,000 a child, on foster care programs.

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Coping With Cross-Examination and Other Pathways to Effective Testimony

Testifying on the Witness Stand

Important things to remember during court when on the witness stand.

By William Tower
Posted July 4, 2006

  1. Always tell the truth. In saying that you don't always have to tell all the truth that you know, just the truth. Always go over with the attorney what questions you should be answering and how to answer them. It is up to the attorney to fix it if it needs to be fixed. That is what they are there for. If the opposing counsel can catch you in a lie it will hurt your case worse than you can imagine.
  2. Be concise. Always answer as short as possible. This will disable the opposing counsel from beating you to death with what you stated on the record. Keep it short.
  3. Take your time. Do not let the opposing counsel pick up the speed on what they are asking. Take your time and think before you answer. There is no rush here. Only creditability in your answer.
  4. Pause before responding. Look to your attorney and give them time to object to the question before answering.
  5. Ask for clarification. If you do not like the form of the question or the wording, ask the attorney to repeat the question because you did not understand it. [Hint] They will usually not ask the same question the same way. And you do not let them get on a roll that will hurt your case. They will lose track of where they were going.
  6. Listen carefully. Listen to the wording of a question; if you don't know how they are using a word, you have a right to ask them to clarify what they mean. (Again, you don't understand.)
  7. Respond then stop. Don't and I repeat Don't get caught with what they term a "pregnant pause" (this is where the attorney will look at you as if you didn't give a full answer and expect you to keep talking). Don't fall for this one. You are not there to please the opposing counsel.
  8. Take a break. You have a right to discuss things with your attorney. Even if you are on the stand your attorney may ask for a brief break. You have a right to counsel.
  9. Be honest with your attorney; tell them everything even if it hurts to tell them. Because if you don't your attorney they can not be ready to object and or have a defense worked out for something to cover you. [Hint] It will be what you did not tell your attorney that will bite you hard, and could endanger your case, causing you to lose your case because of it.
  10. Communication with your attorney. Your Attorney does not need 100 calls a day. That said put it down on paper and get it all together to deal with it all in one phone call. Weed out the things that do not amount to a hill of beans, and those things that are not an issue to the court. (Like the person that went through the paper work and noticed that they had the spelling of the child's name wrong. Or the 11-pages of typos in the documents and you expected the case dismissed because of this. This is not an issue.) Do not your attorney how bad your caseworker is. (They have heard it all before.)

William Tower, President
American Family Rights Association (AFRA)

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This is not to be taken for legal advice, just as good advice/information. You will need an Attorney to get Legal advice. The laws in your state may vary from these, which are typical of California law.