How Language or Culture Impacts Witness Preparation

CSI - Courtroom Sciences Inc.

Conducting witness preparation with a translator can often be a tedious process, and it will almost assuredly lengthen the time required for witness preparation, frequently doubling or tripling the amount of time needed. However, it’s also not an uncommon requirement. 

The diverse landscape in which we reside, involving individuals from various cultural backgrounds and languages, may sometimes necessitate engaging a translator for witness preparation. In addition to the language barrier, these witnesses can have additional underlying fears stemming from their lack of understanding of the U.S. legal system. 

The experts at Courtroom Sciences understand the inherent challenges and subtleties of preparing witnesses who may struggle with language or cultural differences. Our sophisticated neuro-cognitive witness training program is designed to help prepare even the most challenging witnesses, ensuring their testimony performance is well-delivered.

What are some of the best ways to build trust during witness preparation?

Building witness trust can take many forms and may look different for each witness. Ideally, attorneys will initially meet with a witness in person to most effectively assess the witness and help dissipate any fear the witness might have. From there, attorneys should follow up with witnesses regularly and take opportunities to address any worries the witness is willing to share and try to reassure them. 

The Language Barrier

One of the difficulties with the language barrier is that depending on where an individual is from and where they are raised, their native language may vary significantly in terms of the language on paper versus how it is used in verbal communication. In some instances, it could be extraordinarily different. 

For example, individuals from Puerto Rico, Mexico, and the Dominican Republic may all speak Spanish, but their dialects and some of the slang that they use can be vastly different. If the interpreter is primarily familiar with formal Spanish or with a different dialect than where the witness is from, there may be nuances that they miss out on. Because of this, language can be a significant barrier to adequate witness preparation. Defense attorneys must address the challenge of ensuring these witnesses communicate clearly with the jury and opposing counsel.

Naturally, some areas tend to have larger populations of non-English speakers. Still, there are also some industries and professions where attorneys may encounter more witnesses who are unable to, or prefer not to, testify in English. For example, between 35% and 45% of physicians in the United States were not born in the country. These foreign-born physicians may struggle to adequately convey themselves in English in a legal setting. 

Cultural Differences and Psychological Ploys

Non-native English-speaking witnesses not only face language barriers but may also face cultural differences that impact their ability to navigate the legal process. Many are unaccustomed to the nuances of U.S. litigation and may have unfounded fears of losing their homes or going to jail over being sued. These fears can cause them to react psychologically, creating a fight or flight reaction that may ultimately cause them to deliver a poor witness performance

Plaintiff attorneys may also invoke other psychological tactics aimed at undermining witnesses. While these tactics can be difficult for any untrained witness to overcome, they can be particularly challenging for those with language or cultural barriers. Defense attorneys can help prepare their witnesses to recognize and respond to these challenges by extensively practicing direct and cross-examinations and reviewing their performance in real-time.

Overcoming Fear and Building Trust

Participating in litigation and delivering testimony can be an intimidating experience for many individuals, causing fear and anxiety to skyrocket. This can be particularly true if the individual is an immigrant to the U.S. Even if they are now an American citizen, they may have a higher level of distress or fear when compared to other native-born individuals. 

Defense attorneys play a crucial role in helping witnesses overcome these fears, and that is done primarily through building trust. Trust takes time and can’t be achieved in a perfunctory 30-minute meeting just before a deposition. By conducting thorough witness preparation, attorneys can build that level of trust needed with their witnesses and then address areas where the witness may feel uncomfortable. Additionally, once trust is established, witnesses are more likely to be receptive to an attorney's feedback, allowing for better testimony. 

At Courtroom Sciences, we know that the impact of language and culture on witness preparation can be significant. Understanding how to navigate these differences and preparing witnesses for their testimony is crucial to ensure positive outcomes. Our experts lead a psychology-based witness training program designed to help prepare witnesses to become composed, likable, and compelling. Speak with one of our experts to get started.

Key Takeaways

●  Non-native English speakers often need help with language barriers that can significantly complicate witness preparation.

●  Plaintiff attorneys often use psychological tactics to unsettle witnesses, which can be particularly damaging to those unfamiliar with the U.S. legal system.

●  Foreign-born witnesses often experience heightened fear and anxiety when involved in litigation, and attorneys play a pivotal role in building trust with these witnesses.

●  The experts at Courtroom Sciences can help prepare even the most difficult and dubious witnesses, ensuring their testimony performance is well-received.

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