In a few words, a deposition is court testimony that takes place outside a courtroom. After the witness swears to tell the truth, a stenographer (court reporter) transcribes everything said by everyone present as attorneys from all sides can ask questions. There is no judge, however. While attorneys can object to questions, witnesses must truthfully answer all questions unless the information sought covers something that is protected or the witness refuses to answer citing the right against self-incrimination.
Depositions serve many purposes in both civil and criminal cases, so they are very common in both proceedings.
Where Does It Take Place?
Depositions usually occur in informal environments. Local depositions usually take place in a lawyer’s office or conference room; out-of-town depositions often take place in a hotel or other local business facility. Everyone in attendance is usually sitting during the deposition.
Most depositions take place during the discovery phase though you can take a deposition for use at trial and outside of discovery. The discovery phase is the portion of the case after the Complaint – filed by the Plaintiff and starts the lawsuit – and the Answer – the Defendant’s response to the Complaint -are filed. Discovery runs for about six months after the Answer is filed with the court and can be extended if the court allows.
Why Is It Important?
Before trial, depositions and everything else obtained in discovery, such as documents produced is the evidence in the case. Since personal injury victims must establish liability, they must have facts to back up their claims before their case goes to trial.
Depositions are important in a case because they preserve testimony. If a witness tells one story at a deposition and a different one at trial, an attorney can confront the witness about them changing the story and discredit the witness to the jury or judge. Moreover, if the witness is unavailable at trial (experts and doctors in particular, since they keep busy schedules), the witness’s testimony is the only way for the jury to hear what that witness has to contribute. To help with this, many depositions are video recorded. The deposition is then played for the jury when the case goes to trial.
How Do I Prepare?
Prior to a deposition, your attorney, like a skilled Atlanta GA personal injury lawyer, will meet with you and help you understand the deposition process.
When giving a deposition, the best advice your attorneys will give you is to relax and tell the truth. If a witness is nervous or agitated, most attorneys become very confrontational, and the situation can get worse, leading into a spiral for the witness. Tell the truth. Any inaccuracies inevitably come to light, and lack of credibility is devastating to a claim.
A litigant should expect to give a deposition during the course of their case.
Thanks to our friends and contributors from Butler Tobin for their insight into depositions.