Let’s start with a few assumptions about the witness in your next case.
First, let’s assume that your witness saw everything relevant to the case.
Second, let’s assume that your witness has a good memory and a good vocabulary, so she’ll be able to remember and describe everything that she experienced.
And finally, let’s assume that she’ll tell the truth.
With all of those assumptions, you probably think that your jurors will automatically believe her, right?
The sad reality of the situation is that, even if your witness is telling the truth, that’s not enough to guarantee that your jurors will believe her. That’s because, even though she’s telling the truth, she can still look like she’s lying. And if your jurors think she’s lying, then she is.
As the trial lawyer, it’s not enough for you to stick a witness in the witness stand and have them tell the truth. You need to help your witness avoid looking dishonest. Here are some of the behaviors that jurors will be looking for when deciding whether or not a witness is telling the truth:
- Touching your face.
- Stroking your hair
- Playing with your jewelry or a watch
- Wringing your hands
- Rubbing your palms on your legs
- Pursing your lips
- Blocking your eyes (closing them tightly, covering your eyes with your hands)
- Turning your body away from the questioner
- Evading the question; not giving direct answers
Finally, eye contact is going to be one of the most important behaviors that jurors will evaluate when deciding whether or not to believe your witness. Most of us have been raised on the adage, “Never trust someone who won’t look you in the eye.” Of course, in some cultures, making eye contact is disrespectful, so lack of eye contact, on its own, isnt enough to determine whether or not someone is lying. However, if your witness is maintaining eye contact during other parts of testimony, it’s probably going to seem like they’re lying if they suddenly stop making eye contact during the more damaging parts of their testimony. But the converse is true, too. Sometimes liars know that they’re not looking at you, so they’ll overcompensate and stare at you. When you’re on the receiving end, it feels creepy.
While it’s impossible to completely re-vamp your witness’s body behaviors (since she’ll end up acting artificially, which means the jurors will assume she’s lying), at least you can help her to minimize some of the more obvious negative body language.
One of the best ways to help your witness understand how body language affects their credibility is to videotape them during a mock cross-examination or mock trial run, and then have them sit and watch the entire video from beginning to end. Many witnesses have never seen themselves on video before, so they’ll be surprised at how distracting some of their behaviors appear.
Obviously the subject of how body language affects credibility is too large a topic to cover in a single article, so if you’re serious about helping your witnesses understand how body language affects their credibility, check out these books for some good pointers on how to identify dishonest body language: