Testifying in Court

In the past several years there has been an increased need for training of public safety divers on transferring their dive operation information to the legal arena. Public Safety Divers (PSD) appearing in court to testify on how they performed the dive, what they saw and how the evidence was handled can be a critical piece of any criminal investigation. The modern PSD needs to start thinking about this from the minute they appear on scene. Gone are the days when simply getting in the water and doing your job was enough, the courts now want to know how you performed your job and what makes you qualified to do so.

Every dive is an evidence dive

As every dive operation is potentially an evidentiary dive, each recovery has the potential of being involved with a legal trial or operation requiring proceedings and hearings. As such, every dive team member may be called upon to present testimony and evidence in those hearings. In fact, the dive operation may not be concluded until the evidence is presented in court.

Breaking down the court system

The court system has been a part of civilizations for thousands of years, and their basic function is to settle disputes of a criminal or civil nature and those are broken into three basic categories: Criminal, Civil or Common Law. Over the many years courts have been in existence they have evolved into the sophisticated machine they are today, and they continue to evolve daily.

Some of the challenges of presenting legal testimony include unfamiliarity with the legal system and the “television effect” that complicates the reality of how courts really work. Most people have never had to sit in a court room and give testimony or defend how they performed the functions they carried out. As a PSD you have accepted the fact that when you entered the water you could see nothing, yet with the help of a team and proper training you were able to locate what you were looking for. This is a very hard concept for a court or jury to understand; how could you go into a large body of water with zero visibility and locate that item? In court, it is your job to explain how.

Document, Document, Document

Do you recall the part we mentioned earlier about remembering the minute you show up on scene? Here is where that becomes important. From the minute your boots hit the ground you need – or an appointed person from the team needs – to start documenting what they see such as: weather conditions, items spotted on land at the scene, witnesses present and water conditions, just to name a few. Once the dive starts they need to document how long the search took, how many divers entered the water, along with many other critical components. Most cases take years to make it to trial. Reports and thoroughness of the team’s records are imperative for professional testimony.

Getting notice

Once an individual receives a subpoena or notice to appear in court, the next step is usually a meeting with the prosecutor and reviewing the reports, as well as understanding what to do when you testify and how to prepare for that occasion. Without good reports the testimony may come across as contrived, fabricated or flawed, thus hurting the diver’s reputation and credibility. 80% of a person’s credibility isn’t based on what the person says, it is instead based on how he looks when he says what he says. Appearance, professionalism and attention to detail are musts.

Times have changed for the PSD, so you must evolve and be prepared for what could happen in today’s times. Emergency Response Diving International (ERDI) conducted a seminar on testifying in court at the DEMA Convention in Orlando Florida a few years back. It was one of the best-attended seminars that we put on, telling us that this subject is already at the forefront of most PSD’s list of “need to know” information.

So if testifying in court is something you would like to learn more about, ask your local ERDI facility or instructor for more information. https://www.tdisdi.com is always a great place to start looking for additional information, or you can simply give us a call at 888.778.9073 or 207.729.4201.

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3 replies
  1. Mark Phillips
    Mark Phillips says:

    If you are or are planning on becoming a Public Safety Diver, your potential to be called to testify in a court increases every day. In some instances, a case may take months, even years to happen. Your memory of events WILL be tested and if you have nothing to help, you will not fare well. On a scene we document the dive, draw a sketch etc. We do witness interviews, sometimes take photos et. What is NOT common and SHOULD BE REQUIRED is for every diver on the scene to maintain a personal dive log – one that is separate from the team documentation. Each and every dive – including training – should be documented and include a personal written description of everything you did and saw. It does not have to be a formal form but it SHOULD be detailed enough for you to be able to refer to it if you are called to testify at a later date. While this is a reminder of events, your documentation could be of great benefit to your memory. Your personal documentation must be professional – it is possible your notes will become part of the case if you are called to testify.


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