If you receive a subpoena for a deposition, it can feel intimidating. A subpoena is something that compels the recipient to provide testimony in a setting outside of court relating to a legal claim or case. A deposition is similar to being questioned in court since you’re under oath to be truthful.
If you receive a subpoena, you have to attend the deposition because it’s a court order that’s directing you to appear.
The following are six things to know about depositions and what to expect if you find yourself in a situation where you’re required to provide one.
1. What Is a Deposition?
In lawsuits, all the parties that are named have a right to discovery. Conducting discovery is a formal investigation to learn more about the case. Then, the information is available before a trial. The availability of the information lets parties use facts and evidence to define their own strategy and hopefully avoid delays after the trial starts.
Sometimes, what’s learned in the process of discovery might help the two involved sides come to a settlement without even going to trial.
Discovery can occur in different forms, including subpoenas for documents, interrogatories that are written questions, and depositions.
As mentioned, depositions are under oath, and it’s the taking of oral statements of a witness.
Whether a deposition will be needed depends on the circumstances and facts of the case. In many lawsuits, depositions are an important part of creating a complete view of the events that are in question. A deposition means involving a witness to ask questions for two major objectives. Primary one is to get facts what is known by a witness while the other one is to take their testimony and save it.
2. Depositions Help Prevent Surprises
Lawsuits work differently than what’s often portrayed in movies and TV shows. The goal of a deposition is to help the parties learn all facts prior to a trial, so no one is blindsided when a witness is on the stand.
A surprise in a trial is considered unfair, so by the time it begins, the goal is to ensure all the parties know who the witnesses are going to be and what their testimony will include.
Depositions give a chance to better understand a case too.
3. How They Work
A deposition, as mentioned, occurs outside of a courtroom—most often, they’re held in the office of an attorney.
Attorneys will ask witnesses a set of questions about the events and facts related to the lawsuit. The deposition is recorded by a court reporter, word-for-world.
The reporter stays present throughout and then, later on, creates a transcript. Depositions can also be recorded on video.
All the parties to the case can attend the deposition, and the person who’s being deposed will usually have their attorney there.
Questions in a deposition can be broader than what’s asked in court. Attorneys might make some objections, but usually, the deponent (the person being deposed) is required to answer all proper questions, even if there are objections.
Objections are ruled on at a later time because judges aren’t at depositions.
Depositions can be a few minutes long, or they can last for a week or more.
They’re a serious situation, and a deponent should listen to all the questions asked of them closely and answer precisely, carefully, and factually.
4. Types of Questions
There are a lot of topics and questions that may be covered during a deposition.
The attorney might ask you to confirm personal information like your name and address. They’ll then try to gather background information as much as possible.
In situations like a personal injury case, a lawyer will ask about how an injury occurred. If you were involved in an accident, they’d ask you to describe it, and then there might be follow-up with questions about varying aspects of your accident.
If you were hurt, you’d be asked about your injuries and medical treatment, as well as your prognosis.
In a personal injury-related deposition, the attorney might talk about your life and what it’s like after being injured and how it’s changed.
These are specific questions about personal injury, so the range of questions that may be asked will depend on the specific type of legal case. Generally, these questions can be extremely broad.
5. How to Prepare
If you’re being deposed for any reason, working with an attorney to prepare can be a good idea.
You might feel uncomfortable or nervous when you’re being asked to provide answers to certain questions, so when you have legal representation, they can help you stay calm.
You can work with an attorney to prepare for a deposition by going over how they work and what your rights are. An attorney can talk to you about the questions the other attorney is most likely to ask and the information you’ll need to answer them.
Some attorneys will role-play with their clients to help them feel more comfortable and know what to expect.
An attorney can give you tips on how to respond if you don’t know the answer to something and also if you don’t understand the question.
6. Lying in a Deposition
One reason that depositions are nerve-wracking is that if you don’t tell the truth, maybe not even on purpose, it can land you in legal trouble.
If you’re caught lying in a deposition, you could face perjury charges, which means lying under oath. The same thing can happen if you lie in court, but if you lie during a deposition, it’s considered the same legally.
If you’re tried and then found guilty of perjury, you might have to pay fines, and you could even go to jail.
If you’re in a situation in a deposition where the question is designed to misinform or mislead, then your attorney can object to it. Your attorney can also ask for questions to be rephrased before you provide an answer.
You can bring evidence or documents with you, too, if you think they’re relevant.