Anytime a court reporter or an unfamiliar deputy sheriff knocks at your
door with a piece of paper in hand it is generally not good news. Am I
being sued? Am I being charged with a crime? If you are a witness or a
party to a lawsuit, you may receive a subpoena to testify in court or
to appear for a deposition.
What is a deposition?
While a deposition may sound like a frightening legal ordeal, it does not
have to be. A deposition is merely a tool used by parties to a law suit
to collect information through the
sworn testimony of witnesses. There are two kinds of depositions, formal and informal. A
formal deposition is taken for use at trial , when the witness will not be available. The
informal deposition is known as a discovery deposition and is generally only used at trial
for impeachment purposes if a witness changes her story.
Who attends a deposition?
The attendees of a deposition generally consist of the parties to the case,
their attorneys, a court reporter, a witness, and, in some cases, the
witness’ attorney. While cases can certainly be won or lost based
on deposition testimony, a deposition by itself does not end in a judgment
or a conviction.
Once the deposition begins, the
deponent is sworn-in by the court reporter and then is asked a series of questions
by one party. The other party will also have the opportunity to ask the
witness questions. At the end of the deposition, the deponent is given
the opportunity to review her testimony at a later date.
Advantages to hiring an attorney for a deposition
There are some advantages to hiring an attorney to represent you at a deposition.
Your attorney can advise you throughout the deposition and protect you
from divulging trade secrets. The attorney can also assist you in asserting
your 5th Amendment rights by preventing you from giving answers that may
incriminate you. Your attorney can also assist you in protecting privileged
information such as the
attorney-client privilege or a
It is true that some attorneys try to intimidate witnesses and also ask
misleading questions during the deposition. There are also attorneys who
try to obstruct depositions by making bogus objections or instructing
their client not to answer pertinent questions. While this type of conduct
may be effective in some situations, it often leads attorneys to court
sanctions and fines. However, since no judge is present, if there is not
a good record of the attorney’s egregious conduct, he will get away with it.
In sum, a deposition is merely an informal information gathering tool.
While a deposition may initially be intimidating, it does not have to
be a frightening experience. However, in order to protect your rights
as a witness at a deposition, it is generally a good idea to contact your
attorney and discuss whether he should be present.