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Closing Remarks

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Person being sworn to testify

Providing scientific opinions in courts of law requires many of the same verbal and written tactics described previously with few modifications. For example, the content and format of the report may be determined by external quality organizations and laboratory procedures, which may require you to write in a manner that is not best for communicating your points of view. You may also be attempting to communicate in an environment that severely limits your ability to control your presentation. For example, you may be asked to respond to complex questions with either a “yes” or “no” response. Likewise, while judicious use of visual material can reinforce messages and serve to break up the monotony of scientific jargon, you must be aware that the court may not allow it.

Additionally, you may be required to communicate under a range of circumstances. Typically these are preliminary communications, depositions, court testimony, and the written report. For example, the first interaction in forensic firearm and toolmark cases generally occurs during preliminary communication with investigators and prosecutors. These communications are principally verbal and may seem informal. Be aware that the person you are talking to will selectively hear your comments and record them subjectively without qualification. In many jurisdictions, the next communication may be in the context of depositions. The deposition is a written record of your verbal statements and another instance when you will have to deal with contrasting requirements for effective verbal and written communications. Direct and cross-examination during court testimony are entirely verbal, but you have no control over the questions and frequently have limited control over how you can express your responses. Thus, apart from laboratory procedures, the written report is the only communication method that is entirely under your control.

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