A deposition is when an attorney asks a series of questions of a person, who is compelled to respond under oath. The person being asked the questions is called a deponent. The deponent is usually a witness or a party to a case. If you have been subpoenaed to give a deposition, you can expect the attorneys for each party to be present, as well as a court reporter, who will typically swear you in and record the deposition, for later transcribing.
Depositions can be useful for attorneys for a variety of reasons. The appearance at a deposition can be compelled by a subpoena, so one use is to use the authority of the Court to require a reluctant witness to appear and answer questions. Attorneys often use depositions as a tool to learn more detail about a certain matter, more than what may have been initially reported. To some degree, depositions can be used to gauge how well the witness appears to know their subject matter, and how they present under stress.
Another use for a deposition is to ‘lock in’ testimony if there might be a concern that over time, whether through faulty memory or bias, the deponent’s testimony may change. After a deposition has been taken and a transcript of the deposition has been produced, if the deponent testifies differently in court than they did in their deposition, then the transcript of the deposition can be used to impeach the credibility of that witness.
If you are going to be deposed, it is generally advisable to follow these guidelines. First; do not interrupt. Let the attorney finish asking their question before you begin to answer. Second; keep your answers short! If the attorney wishes to know more, trust that they will not hesitate to ask for more. Third; do not be hasty in your response. Remember, you are the feature of the deposition! So take your time if you need to gather your thoughts before answering. Fourth; if you do not know what the question is, ask for clarification or ask for it to be re-worded. Fifth; stick to what you know! If you do not know the answer to a question, then just say that you do not know, rather than trying to guess or offer speculation.
By sticking to what you know, and understanding the question fully before answering, you will help protect yourself from future embarrassment or other losses, should the matter upon which you are testifying go before a judge or jury.
This article is for general information only and is not intended as and does not constitute legal advice or solicitation of a prospective client. It should not be relied on for legal advice in any particular factual circumstance.