by Dr. Thomas Powell:
Within the public safety community the court room is a place to which individuals may be called at any time. Legal proceedings surrounding injuries, recoveries, operations, and activities may require individuals, groups, or even whole teams to bring insight before jurors or a judge. For this reason, public safety dive teams must be prepared to explain their actions and findings involving any operational activity. Though being called to court is not a common occurrence for public safety divers, training must be put into place to prepare for what MAY happen. A lack of preparation could bring harm to the stability of a dive team or even allow a law-breaking individual to go free because of a lack of information, evidence, or observable competency from the dive team. A dive team member who performs perfectly underwater, but who cannot face an attorney may present what appears to be incompetence to a judging group of jurors.
Emergency Response Diving International (ERDI) has developed a course program designed to help dive team members be mentally prepared to face the courtroom. This program, Testifying in Court, discusses topics from proper wear and appearance for courtroom proceedings to preparation prior to court. Being prepared is the most efficient manner in which a diver can comfortably face questions from attorneys and provide truthful and quality data as needed.
Four tips that can help any public safety diver prepare for court:
Review the subpoena
A subpoena is a legal document issued by a governmental body (most often the court) to an individual or group requiring that person or body to present information. If that person or body does not follow through with the presentation of evidence or information, the person or group will be penalized. If a dive team or dive team member is presented with a subpoena, the document should be reviewed for information. A subpoena will often provide information regarding the evidence or testimony desired by the court system as well as the names and actions related to that evidence or testimony. The date, type of court, time, and location of the required presentation will also be listed along with the attorney who issued the subpoena through the court system.
A subpoena must be reviewed to make sure that a dive team or team member understands why they are being called to appear, what items must be taken to present to the court, and when and where the person or group must be available to sit before the court. Understanding this information will also help establish a timeframe for preparation and presentation practice.
Review the dive reports
Once a subpoena has been reviewed, all information regarding the associated dive operation must be pulled and reviewed and by all available parties who partook in the operation. Team members must work together to develop a comprehensive knowledge and understanding of what actions were performed, what items were found, and how that information was documented. This may also involve photographs, sketches, or other forms of documentation that must be compiled and copied for the court.
A diver should never enter the courtroom without understanding what took place and his or her actions in a clear fashion. For this reason, team members should rely on each other and documented information to ensure that a clear memory is recalled. A lack of memory regarding an old operation will not be viewed as acceptable or competent within a courtroom setting.
Meet with the attorney or solicitor
Next, a team must take the time to meet with the attorney or solicitor who generated the subpoena. A meeting of this type will help establish what information must be presented and in what manner. Essentially, the person or persons presenting information will be better able to prepare and present relevant information and avoid unforeseen questioning. This meeting will also give both parties the opportunity to plan out pertinent questions and responses associated with case-based information.
Know where to go
Finally, the diver or team members required to appear before the court must know where to go and when. If an individual fails to appear in court in response to a subpoena, that person can be held in contempt of court and face legal consequences. Similarly, the individual being asked to testify may be viewed as incompetent, and therefore critical case-related data may be eliminated from court proceedings. A situation such as this may even cause a case to be dropped and a potentially guilty defendant to go free.
When the court system calls upon a diver, that diver must be prepared to present knowledgeable and quality data in a competent fashion. To accomplish this goal, dive teams must be prepared for the potential need to present information in court through the development of both education and mission records. ERDI has developed an educational program to help any team achieve this objective. Through competent action and the ability to record and recall information, teams can both justify actions and verify operational credibility.
– Dr. Thomas Powell
Owner/Instructor Trainer – Air Hogs Scuba, Garner, NC