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May 112017

Testifying at a Trial – Not Likely to Happen

Victims of sex assault or abuse in Pennsylvania and New Jersey often want to know whether they will have to testify in court. It’s perfectly natural to be apprehensive about testifying in court, especially for victims of sexual assault. Testifying about being assaulted or abused is incredibly difficult for many victims.

courtroom justice lawsuitThe reality is that the vast majority of lawsuits never go to court, i.e., they never make it to the trial phase. Nine out of ten lawsuits will be settled before trial. This means that the parties will reach an agreement on how to resolve the case, short of actually going to trial. This is true of all lawsuits, whether it’s a car accident case or a sexual assault lawsuit involving a teacher or a priest.

Judges in both Pennsylvania and New Jersey tend to favor settlement over trial. That’s because the court system is already burdened by the number of lawsuits filed each year. If more lawsuits were tried, cases would take entirely too long to get resolved. So, settlement is the preferred method of resolution. In fact, in both states, settlement conferences are required.

It is important to note that from the perspective of a victim’s lawyer, it is critical to prepare each and every case as if it will go to trial. Even knowing that the odds favor settlement, cases can and do go to trial. From the perspective of a victim (the plaintiff), there is a certain sense of relief knowing that the case is not likely to go to trial. However, despite the odds, victims must be mentally prepared to testify in court.

In addition, just because the victim in a sex assault lawsuit probably won’t have to testify in open court doesn’t mean that they won’t have to testify at all. They will, and it’s at a deposition.

Depositions – Technically Testimony, But Not in Court

Depositions occur during the discovery phase of a lawsuit. This is when the parties gather evidence and exchange documents, pictures, etc.

Depositions are like meetings, where the deponent (person being deposed) is asked questions by the attorney for the opposite side. In a sex assault lawsuit, the victim would be deposed by attorneys for the defendant. If there is more than one defendant, each attorney gets to ask questions.

During a deposition, questions may be about anything related to the case. Common topics include the victim’s educational/work history, the assault/abuse, how the assault/abuse affected them, etc.

Depositions – The Basics

Despite the fact that depositions aren’t as formal as testifying at trial, they are held under oath. The deponent takes an oath to tell the truth, just like they would in open court. That’s about the only thing depositions have in common with testifying in court. Basically, depositions carry just as much weight as testimony during a trial.

Below are other things to know about depositions.

  1. Depositions are not held in courtrooms, in front of a large number of people.

The only people present at a deposition are the parties, their attorneys and a court reporter who records everything and produces a written transcript of everything that was said at the deposition. Judges are not present during a deposition. So, in a sense, testifying at a deposition is not as overwhelming and nerve-wracking as testifying in court.

Depositions are usually held in one of three places:

  • an attorney’s office/conference room,
  • a court reporting office, or
  • an office at the local bar association.

The vast majority of depositions will be held at an attorney’s office or a court reporting office. In some instances, when the parties cannot agree on the place, depositions will be held at the local bar association.

2. Depositions are not adversarial.

Due to popular courtroom based tv shows, many people have preconceived notions of what it’s like to testify at trial. Cross-examination is just one of the aspects of testifying at trial. However, cross-examination does not occur during a deposition. Depositions just aren’t adversarial in the same way trial testimony is.

However, depositions are just as important as trial testimony. If and when a case does go to trial, the deposition transcript can be used against the deponent while testifying on the witness stand. It’s not uncommon to hear a lawyer confront a witness with “But at your deposition, you said [x], and now you are saying [y]?”


Pennsylvania & New Jersey Sexual Assault Lawyer for Victims

Brian Kent is a former prosecutor who now represents victims of sexual assault and abuse across the country. He is licensed in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Illinois. For a free consultation, please call 215.399.9255.

**This website does not provide legal advice. Every case is unique and it is crucial to get a qualified, expert legal opinion prior to making any decisions about your case. See the full disclaimer at the bottom of this page.

 Posted by on May 11, 2017 Sexual Abuse