The use of depositions and deposition testimony of witnesses, which differs from testimony presented in court, is frequently highlighted in news coverage of high-profile cases. But what exactly is a deposition, and how does it work? Continue reading to learn about the discovery process, as well as some fundamental facts regarding depositions and how they function.
The Discovery Process in Summary
All named parties in a lawsuit have the ability to conduct discovery, which is a formal investigation to learn more about the case. Pre-trial access to this material allows the parties to better outline their tactics and avoid delays once the trial begins by using facts and prospective evidence. In some situations, what is uncovered during discovery may even aid the opposing parties in reaching a settlement without the need for a trial. Subpoenas for pertinent documents, interrogatories (written inquiries), and depositions (the taking of an oral statement of a witness before trial while under oath) are the most prevalent forms of discovery.
Whether or whether a deposition is required is determined by the facts and circumstances of each case. They are frequently not required in cases involving just legal, not factual, concerns because witness testimony and other evidence aren’t essential to these conclusions. Depositions, on the other hand, are crucial in many instances because they help to give a more full picture of the circumstances at hand.
Basics of Deposition
A deposition, unlike the facts recorded in documents or the attorneys’ responses to interrogatories, involves the questioning of a living, breathing witness regarding the case. The goal of the deposition is twofold: To learn what the witness knows and to keep the testimony of that witness. The goal is to give all of the facts to the parties before the trial so that no one is startled when that witness takes the stand. Surprising a witness in the eleventh hour of a trial is considered unfair, contrary to what countless movies and TV shows would have you believe. By the time a trial begins, the parties should have a good idea of who will be testifying and what they will say.
A deposition is an opportunity to gain a better grasp of the matter, not just to obtain favorable testimony. If, for example, a witness’ version of events will jeopardize your case, you’d want to know about it well before trial, because the last thing you’d want is to be caught off guard when that person takes the stand for the first time. A deposition is essentially an opportunity for both parties to learn about the weak points in their respective claims and devise strategies to avoid or rebut them at trial.
How Do Depositions Work?
Depositions are not frequently held in courtrooms, but rather in the offices of attorneys. The counsel will ask the witness, or deponent, a sequence of questions concerning the lawsuit’s facts and events, with a court reporter recording the entire deposition word-for-word. The reporter will be there throughout the meeting and will produce a transcript later. Videotaping a deposition is also an option. When a deponent is seriously ill and may not be able to testify at trial, or if the deponent will be out of town or otherwise unavailable during the trial, this is frequently done.
All parties to the dispute are welcome to attend the deposition, and a deponent’s counsel is frequently present, though with a smaller role than in a courtroom. In general, deposition inquiries are more expansive than what is permitted in court. Some questions may be objected to by attorneys for the deponent or parties to the action, but the deponent is normally required to answer all proper questions notwithstanding objections, which are ruled on later because judges are not present at depositions (except in special cases where immediate rulings may be necessary).
For a deeply interested witness, a deposition can be as little as fifteen minutes or as long as a week or longer. All depositions are serious matters, and what is stated during them is crucial. Deponents should pay close attention to the questions and provide clear answers. Remember that deponents are testifying under oath, and any false claims made while under oath can result in civil and criminal sanctions.
If you’re ever called as a witness in a case, make sure you know what to expect during any prospective depositions. It’s also a good idea to consult with a qualified litigation and appeals attorney who can educate you and protect your rights, especially in cases involving many parties.
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