Credibility: truth, lies, and exaggerations
In every case, a lot is riding on credibility. It’s the main way that a jury evaluates testimony of witnesses and parties. And credibility, like reputation, takes a long time to build, but can be destroyed in an instant. Think of your credibility or reputation as a piece of fine china. If the china is broken, it can be put back together with glue, but the crack or imperfection in the china will always remains visible.
The truth, even if it hurts, is best
Generally speaking, “honesty is always the best policy.” If a witness lies and the lie is shown with an incriminating document or two, that’s a big problem. Or if the witness merely looks or sounds like they are being deceptive, their credibility is most likely gone. It might be possible to rehabilitate it, but even if it’s possible, it’s a long shot.
No case is perfect. It is always tempting to try to hide “bad” facts. Even if there are bad facts, it is always better to address them head-on. Addressing them at the outset will help build credibility. Attempting to hide from bad facts only makes them appear worse than they are.
Assume evidence will be found
Between the Internet and social media, along with public records, there are many ways to find out information about witnesses or parties. Yes, sites like Facebook or Twitter are regularly checked. Court records are also accessible. Even agency records can be obtained, through various federal and state open records acts.
If there is a document that has a negative implication for your position, don’t hide from it. Disclosing it and addressing it is the best tactic. There is every likelihood that the other side would find it anyway, and use it to ambush you. This process is called “impeachment.” Trust us… you never want you, or your side’s witnesses, to be impeached with documents that contradict their testimony.
A corollary to the “tell the truth” admonition is, don’t exaggerate. Exaggerations make a witness look like they’re hiding something, by overcompensating. For example, exaggerating an injury’s pain, to hide the fact that it was not a significant impact. Or, exaggerating a loss of business income, to hide the fact that the contract was new. Speculation and exaggeration won’t earn a witness credibility with a jury, and can, in fact, irreparably harm it.
This general advice holds true for life, as well. For example, an injured person visits doctors or other medical providers. Being untruthful, or exaggerating things, will end up written down in medical records. The opposing party will use those records, of course (see above!). This is also true for other types of damages, like business income. Saying a claim is worth $1,000,000 when it’s really worth $50,000-$100,000 will destroy a witness’s credibility, fast.
As a party, it’s important to seek counsel soon after a claim arises. Your lawyer will help you stay truthful, and avoid exaggerations, whether your claim is for personal injuries, legal malpractice, or other types of damages. Chandler & Moore Law stands ready to help you, please feel free to give us a call.