Steven Simring, MD, speaking at the SEAK National Expert Witness Conference, discussed why experts need to listen carefully and not be rushed when answering questions at trial.
This is easier said than done under all the pressure of a trial, with so many eyes focused on you. There is a natural tendency for an expert witness to keep things moving, and you do not want to put the jurors to sleep. It is far better to go slowly than to make a mistake. Once said, incorrect testimony cannot be unsaid. You can recant it, the judge can strike it, but your mis-spoken remark often leaves an indelible mark in each jurors’ mind. Unfortunately, the more the lawyers fight about it, the deeper the mark your comment leaves.
If the cross-examiner tries to rush you, your lawyer should raise objections to slow the process. Unfortunately that often doesn’t happen, so experts are on their own to set the pace. You cannot raise objections, only the lawyers can do that.
Therefore, your only tool is to take charge of your timing to slow the rate of the cross-examiner’s questions.
- Build pauses into your answer.
- Read your notes to yourself.
- Reduce your rate of speech.
- Ask for the question to be repeated, or repeat it yourself in the preface to your answer.
Do anything you can think of to stop yourself from being rushed.
Count to ten. Look at the ceiling. Look at the Bible. Fiddle with your notes. Just gain enough time to understand the question and formulate an answer before opening your mouth. Do not allow yourself to be stampeded. If all else fails, ask for a bathroom break.