Testifying Part 2 – Don’t be a jerk in court
17 January, 2017
This is part of a series of articles focused on testifying in court. In this part, we explore why being a jerk in court is not a smart idea.
So you’ve reviewed the evidence with us, your lawyers, and decided that you want to testify. You want to tell the judge (or jury) your side of the story. It’s easy, right? Just get on the witness stand and tell the truth. Well, yes. But that that is not all there is to it. Speaking the truth is only half the story. It’s a question of not only content, but also form. How you tell the story is equally as important as what you say.
After many years of watching people testify in a criminal courtroom, it is very apparent that judges and juries are much more observant than we give them credit for. For example, if you come off as a jerk while testifying, you are not likely to find the jury going along with your side of the case. You will always want to put your best foot forward, because well, because nobody likes a jerk.
So what is a jerk and how can you tell if you are one? A recent article, explains it as:
The scientifically recognized personality categories closest to “jerk” are the “dark triad” of narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathic personality. Narcissists regard themselves as more important than the people around them, which jerks also implicitly or explicitly do. And yet narcissism is not quite jerkitude, since it also involves a desire to be the center of attention, a desire that jerks don’t always have. Machiavellian personalities tend to treat people as tools they can exploit for their own ends, which jerks also do. And yet this too is not quite jerkitude, since Machivellianism involves self-conscious cynicism, while jerks can often be ignorant of their self-serving tendencies. People with psychopathic personalities are selfish and callous, as is the jerk, but they also incline toward impulsive risk-taking, while jerks can be calculating and risk-averse.
Another related concept is the concept of the asshole, as explored recently by the philosopher Aaron James of the University of California, Irvine. On James’s theory, assholes are people who allow themselves to enjoy special advantages over others out of an entrenched sense of entitlement. Although this is closely related to jerkitude, again it’s not quite the same thing. One can be a jerk through arrogant and insulting behavior even if one helps oneself to no special advantages.
Simply stated, a jerk’s self-centered, self-serving, arrogant, insulting behaviour is likely to make you few friends in life and quickly have the judge against you. Occasionally this may work in your favour, such as portraying yourself as too big a jerk to bother assaulting someone. For the most part, though, being a jerk in the courtroom, for an accused person, is more likely to lead to a sentencing hearing rather than an acquittal.
Preparation before trial, where your behaviour and responses can be subjected to constructive criticism, can often ameliorate the harsh effects of jerkish behaviour. As your lawyers, we can help by guiding you so you understand how tell the judge your story so that they listen to the content of your evidence without being distracted by the form. Sounding like a jerk is rarely in your best interest and obscures the very message that you are trying to convey. You deserve to be heard. Your attitude and expressiveness can be key in ensuring that your message is conveyed meaningfully. (For a fun and hilarious illustration, see the different versions of Shakespeare’s famous line from Hamlet “to be or not to be, that is the question” performance on PBS.)
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