Preparing for Court: Reducing Anxieties and Fears
So you have been subpoenad, or court-ordered to appear ‘in court’. Being called to appear in court can be an anxiety provoking experience for anyone. The presenters of a recent workshop at the AOCC conference stated that for professionals, ‘It is critical to be prepared for the courtroom, testifying when unprepared can lead to humiliation, and mistakes that will harm the client. Not being prepared can also cause you professional issues such as sanctions on your licenses.’ Its essential for a defendant to also know what that means, how the court system works, and how their future may be impacted by how they plead.
Daniel Cruikshanks, PhD, LPCC-S, is Associate Professor and Chair of the Psychology Department at Aquinas College and has been a counselor educator for more than 15 years. Cruikshanks has nearly 20 years of clinical experience in a variety of settings, is a specialist in forensic counseling and expert witness in numerous cases over the past 12 years. Stephanie Burns PhD, LPC is an Assistant Professor of Counselor Education at Western Michigan University where she has been a counselor educaor for the past 5 years with a specialization in career counseling, psychometrics and research methods. The Honorable Donald Bennett, JD has served as a Magistrate for the Seneca County Juvenile and probate Court in Tiffin, Ohio since 2009. All three shared in presenting the court workshop topic at the All Ohio Counselors conference.
The program guide says, ‘survival tools are needed to negotiate the witness stand.’ Cruikshanks stated it is a known fact that counselors feel better with shades of gray, and don’t tend to think in terms of absolutes. When going to court however, it is about ‘black and white’, ‘yes or no’, not . . . ‘it depends.’
Burns quoted Betsey Neely, JD, ‘When someone from the helping profession enters the courtroom, they are entering a different culture. They don’t understand why the questions they would like to answer have not been asked, or why the questions they have been asked are not the ones they’d like to answer. It can be very frustrating.’ Burns said, equipping yourself with the right tools and attitude can ease some of the frustration and fear. [This is why Pomegranate’s juvenile competency attainment program is so important for teens facing trial, unfamiliar with the process.]
All three presenters emphasized more than once, that you must respond to a subpoena, but you don’t necessarily have to obey it depending on its nature. A court order must always be obeyed. For professionals who have been served, “1. Do not panic, 2. Make sure the subpoena is valid, 3. If valid, call the issuer of the subpoena, 4. After you ascertain the nature of the subpoena, contact the affected client if necessary to consult with them on how they prefer you to handle the matter. Things neither professionals (nor teens) should do after being served: 1. Do not take your anxieties out on the officer serving you, 2. Under no circumstances should you ever ignore a subpeona, 3. Disobey a court order, or 4. Ever alter your records in any way.
According to the presenters, when you go to court they advise you not to underestimate the gravitas of the situation. ‘To serve as a witness means participating in a process that will have significant effects on the lives of those involved. Be mindful of this power, and take it seriously. If you are called to testify, be prepared.” Helpful suggestions for professionals, are to: ‘1. Prepare a folder to take with you including your resume with details of specialized training, 2. Bring a copy of reports and notes related to the case, 3. Have copies of correspondence with consituents, and 4. On your day in court, arrive early but be prepared to wait.’
Magistrate Bennett suggested that when you are actually testifying remember: ‘1. The judge/magistrate is there to protect you, 2. Be aware that while your interactions almost exclusively will be with the attorneys, in fact you are communicating to the judge/magistrate (and jury when applicable), 3. Make sure you stay calm and focused, 4. Listen carefully to the questions you’re asked and answer them concisely. Don’t volunteer information unnecessarily, 5. Answer only questions asked of you. 6. Correct your mistakes. If you mis-speak, correct yourself immediately; ackonwledge your errors, and, 7. Don’t try to be funny, or sarcastic.’
All three presenters agreed that appearing in court can feel intimidating and unnerving. Being well prepared and participating in the judicial process can also be a rewwarding experience. Presenting oneself with confidence and self assurance is a plus. The juvenile competency attainment manual and training at Pomegranate Health Systems was developed by Terrence Kukor, PhD, ABPP, Director of Forensic and Specialized Assessment Services at Netcare, and Dan Davis, Phd ABPP, Senior Forensic Psychologist, Netcare. Its an extensive resource to educate teens on the legal process, terminology, people in the court system and helping teens to understand what they’re facing.
[Photo credit by Pasciuta Andrea by Lupus in Fabula licensed under Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike 2.5 Generic, 2.0 Generic and 1.0 Generic license.] Guest column submitted by Candice, customer relations specialist at Pomegranate Health Systems.