How do depositions work?


A deposition is an important facet of the legal process. Someone involved in a lawsuit or criminal case might be required to participate in this phase of a legal proceeding. Our firm of San Diego personal injury attorneys suggest reading the following brief article about depositions to gain an understanding of how they work.

A deposition is defined as an event in which a witness to a crime or participant in a lawsuit must answer questions relating to the incident in question.

The deposition phase of a legal proceeding occurs during what is referred to as discovery. During discovery, the litigants are given the legal authority to gather more information about their case. Discovery is conducted well in advance of any trial for the purpose of enabling the litigants to formulate positions and establish what their arguments will be should the case be tried. In certain instances, the findings collected during the discovery process are enough to persuade the litigants to agree to a settlement and thus avoid the rigors of going to trial. Depositions are one of three fact finding methods employed during the discovery process. The others are interrogatories, or written questions a witness is expected to respond to in writing and subpoenas, which are court-mandated requests to receive specific documentation pertinent to a case.

Depositions are not a requirement in every legal proceeding. Typically, these events take place in civil cases where factual matters are in greater question than legal issues. Reaching a conclusion in a civil case often involves sorting through the testimony of several witnesses in addition to that offered by the litigants. In such situations, depositions are critical because they help provide a forum to rehash key events of an incident and gather a much clearer picture of what actually happened. While facts are also important in criminal cases, determining whether or not an individual broke an established law is easier to determine.
The deposition process is somewhat different from an actual trial. Instead of occurring inside a courtroom, these events usually take place inside an attorney’s office. Like a court, however, the witness swears, under oath, that the testimony being provided is truthful.

Once the witness is sworn in, the attorney asks the deponent (witness) several questions surrounding the events of a particular case. The witness’s testimony is recorded word for word by a court reporter, who following the deposition, transcribes the recording into a written report. Though typically done only under extenuating circumstances, the events can also be videotaped.

The deposition may be attended by the litigants and other persons pertinent to the case. In most instances, attorneys representing all involved parties are in attendance. The line of questioning a witness is subjected to is often broader in scope than what he or she would face, or would be permitted on the witness stand inside a courtroom. The witness is not allowed to ask, but only give responses to inquiries. Except for rare instances, judges do not partake in depositions.

The length of a deposition varies widely depending upon the case and the witness’s level of involvement within the case. In some instances, a deposition can be wrapped up in less than an hour. However, certain depositions might last one week or longer.

A completed deposition should lay the foundation for any potential trial. Though it can occasionally happen, it is fairly uncommon for either new witnesses or surprise testimony to be entered into the record once a trial has begun.

Being a witness in a deposition is a serious responsibility that can have significant, if not life changing ramifications for the deponent or others involved in the case. Our firm of San Diego personal injury attorneys strongly recommends anyone facing this situation take the time to familiarize themselves with the deposition process or even speak with an attorney.

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