November 19, 2019

Podcast - Rule 5a: Don’t Answer a Question You Don’t Understand

In the latest episode of his "Powerful Witness Preparation" podcast series, Don't Answer a Question You Don't Understand, litigation attorney Dan Small continues his in-depth 10-part series on the rules for witness preparation. He reminds us that a witness has the right to clear and simple questions and they should only answer questions they fully understand. In order to ensure that a witness fully understands a question, a witness must apply three simple tests.

1) Clarity – Was the wording of the question clear to the witness? A witness shouldn’t be surprised or feel uncomfortable if some of the questions don't come out clearly. They just shouldn’t answer them.

2) Comprehension – Even if they heard the words, do they really understand what's being asked? A witness needs to know whether they understand the narrow question that came out of the examiner's mouth because that is the question that will be committed to the transcript. Nothing else matters at that moment.

3) Comfort – The question is comprehensible, but is the witness comfortable with what it contains, or the way it's being asked? The most common source of problems comes from the assumptions that are contained in the question and almost all questions contain assumptions. If the witness accepts someone else's assumptions they have put their word and their future behind a statement they may not agree with or understand.

He finishes by reminding us that the solution is very simple. If a question contains assumptions that your witness doesn't understand, doesn't agree with or they just aren't comfortable with, they should not answer it. They should either ask that it be rephrased or directly challenge the false assumption.

Listen to more Powerful Witness Preparation Podcasts here.

Related Insights