Are you Mentally Prepared to Face the Courtroom?

By: Glenn Michael

Long after the dive concludes and the equipment has been stowed, the logs and reports filed, and post-dive briefings performed, emergency response divers will often find themselves yet again facing the ominous specter of the dive mission. Divers and surface support will be faced with recalling even the most minuscule of facts and somehow conveying that information to individuals who do not speak the same language they do. However, with a little preparation and understanding of the legal arena divers may put their minds at ease and embrace this opportunity to show their level of professionalism, desire to further aid and assist their communities, and round out their experiential learning in the realm of emergency response diving.

The dive operation is merely the beginning

Most emergency response diving operations encompass evidentiary recovery which has been involved in some form of illicit criminal activity. As such, the dive operation is merely the beginning of a lengthy process that will undoubtedly deliver the fruits of the dive to the courtroom setting. The question is, Are you mentally prepared to face the courtroom and present yourself and actions in that arena? With a little understanding and preparation, divers can become more familiar with how the court operates and their vital role in legal proceedings. While this seems simple, there are certain protocols which need to be followed, protocols which vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.

Emergency response diving plays a crucial role in criminal investigations and is an invaluable tool to individuals tasked with investigating criminal incidents and complaints. Performing underwater searches, locating sunken items, mapping and documenting the underwater crime scene and finally performing demanding evidentiary recoveries are all crucial to understanding the mechanics, and often the psychology, of what took place during the crime in question. It should always be the intent of the dive team to not only perform successful recoveries but also be mindful that there will be a future need to properly articulate these actions and tasks in a legal proceeding.

Understanding this concept will aid divers in becoming acutely aware of the solemn responsibilities they are tasked with. Any potential “hiccup” may be easily mitigated and managed with preparation and understanding of the legal arena and how it operates. Emergency response divers do not need to have trepidation regarding offering testimony nor fear standing in the presence of the court. In fact, everyone should welcome the opportunity to be a part of the mechanism which helps make their community safer and more inviting for families and children, the elderly and like. Most seasoned investigators experienced the same foreboding until they understood the basics of what was required and how to meet those standards to the highest of their abilities.

Divers should prepare weeks and even months in advance 

In order to prepare for the legal setting, divers should begin weeks and even months in advance. Simple preparation and planning can make the world of difference between successful testimony or failing to convey thoroughly and accurately all of the efforts placed into performing a successful recovery. Further, preparation can aid in alleviating stress and make the experience worthwhile for personal education and skills development. Emergency Response Diving International has prepared comprehensive training to aid in this endeavor with its Preparing for and Testifying in Court training program.

Seek help from the District Attorney or Solicitor on the case 

When preparing for court, individuals should seek a pre-trial conference with the District Attorney or Solicitor assigned to prosecute the case. Setting up a meeting with this individual will assist you in knowing what they expect from you, the questions they intend to ask and the information they will need conveyed to the judge or jury. In addition, it allows you to begin an open dialogue about what you and the team actually performed during the dive mission. Scheduling a meeting should be done weeks in advance so that divers can successfully pull and study their reports, notes, photographs and dive information for the purpose of recalling the facts associated with the incident.

It is important to note that the district attorney or solicitor is there to represent the state and they rely on the testimony of dedicated professionals to accomplish successful prosecution. Most attorneys do not have a background in law enforcement or evidence handling, and divers need to understand that they do not speak the same language the divers do. As such, divers will need to explain the steps performed on a level and in a manner that is easily comprehended by any lay individual. It is important that everyone who hears your testimony understands fully what had occurred and what you actually performed.

Schedule a tour of the courtroom setting 

In addition to meeting with the state’s legal representative, dive team individuals are encouraged to schedule a tour of the courtroom setting. For some individuals, this can seem like an imposing building, full of rooms, tables, legal personnel and the like. However, for those individuals who have never had the honor of testifying, a tour allows the individual(s) to learn crucial information about how to prepare for the day of trial: Where to park, how early should they arrive, how do they check in and out of the courtroom or building, if applicable, who should they report to? All of these are crucial in making a good appearance as well as easing the individual’s mind on the day they are scheduled to testify.

Other aspects which need to be considered include: where are witnessed supposed to be located to avoid accidentally encountering potential jurors and even where the restrooms are located. Understanding the layout of the building and where people are supposed to make navigating the hallways more enjoyable and stress-free.

Maintain Contact

Throughout the preparation process, divers should maintain contact with the state’s legal representative or designee. This will allow divers the ability to continue the open dialogue, which began during the pretrial meeting and further allow divers to become aware of any changes in scheduling, witness orders of testifying and issues which periodically arise.

Upon the day of appearance, divers should get a restful night’s sleep and arrive at the courthouse early. Having previously prepared where to go and whom they are to meet will make the experience easier. Divers should have with them their full dive log and report of the incident, in the event they may need to refresh their memory. Once at the courthouse they need to report to the location and person who will assist them through that day’s process.

Follow Directions 

When individuals are called to testify, it is important that they follow the instructions of the court representative regarding where to stand, sit, how to take an oath or affirmation and whom to address. Divers should have previously been informed of this during their tour of the facility. However, periodically some adjustments must be made to accommodate other needs within the court setting.

From that point forward, divers are the stars of the show. In reality, they are the people to whom everyone is waiting to hear. There are several experts and allusions that state that approximately 60%+ of an individual’s credibility is based on how he or she appears when speaking. As such, divers should remain calm, relaxed and actively engaged in delivering honest responses to the questions being asked. It is important to note that, depending on the legal setting, the attorneys will be the ones asking the questions. However, it is the judge and/or jury that needs to hear and understand the response. After all, they will be the ones making the final decisions. As such, it is recommended that divers always answer to those individuals directly. It is recommended that you make good eye contact and answer honestly.

Understanding that the individuals impaneled in the jury are simply people, just like you, makes responding to them easier. Consider they are your coworkers, neighbors, church members, teachers, etc.

Delivering testimony is as simple as having a conversation 

In the event that there are legal challenges: brief meetings between the judge and attorneys, motions and objections, divers should maintain their level of professionalism and calm and wait until they are further directed by the judge or district attorney. Delivering testimony is as simple as having a conversation. Diver should not dread the opportunity or setting but instead, prepare themselves to be a part of a group of individuals working to make their communities safer. Taking a little time to understand the requirements, setting and what will be expected during their time on the stand will make the experience exponentially more comfortable, their testimony more natural and allow for diver and team actions to be explained to all parties involved.

Emergency response diving is a demanding platform with a myriad of variances in dive operations, adaptations to ever-changing underwater environments and often long hours of training and preparation for calls for service. However, the purpose of this dive profession is to safely recover underwater items, including those associated with criminal activity. Just as a diver prepared to perform his profession learning basic underwater concepts through much more challenging abilities, the end result will often be the need to deliver that training in the legal arena. Divers should take the time to hone that aspect of their skills and become familiar with the legal settings and responsibilities associated there. ERDI has created training for this purpose and to assist the individual in furthering their education along that avenue. Taking a little time and familiarizing yourself can aid you in mentally preparing yourself to perform to the highest level of professionalism you can.

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