Keeping Your Cool On The Stand In An Emotionally Charged Case

Posted By Anne Foy || 27-Apr-2016

Keeping Your Cool On The Stand In An Emotionally Charged Case

By Anne Foy for The Evans Firm
April 27, 2016

A lot of the cases we deal with can be pretty hard-hitting. Friends and family of those involved - to say nothing of our clients themselves - may find themselves wading through some pretty traumatic emotional territory. While it’s important to let your natural and honest human emotions through, bad memories and emotional angst can not only cloud your judgement, but cause you to behave in erratic and out-of-character ways. While it’s great to show emotions (you are, after all, a human being!), it’s not so great to let those emotions control you.

Here are a few tips to help you keep a good emotional balance on the stand in a traumatic case:

Don’t Be Riled

If you’re on the stand in a case, the job of the law firms is to use your testimony to further their cases. However, it’s not only your testimony you’re using, but the impression you make upon the jury. Sad to say, some law firms may try to invoke strong emotions in you in order to ensure that the jury thinks you unreliable, or generally get a negative impression of you and your testimony. They’ll use trigger points, push all your buttons, make suggestions which anger you. Did you benefit from someone’s death? Did you encourage someone down the wrong path? Were you a bad mother/father/sibling/friend? They’ll suggest things which make you want to defend yourself - and some people defend themselves through attack. You’ll get angry, which may in turn make you behave in irrational and unlikeable ways. We’re evolutionarily primed to think of people displaying anger as dangerous, which in turn makes us trust them less in certain situations. If the opposition makes you angry, chances are that this is the precise reaction they wanted. Stay calm. Don’t lose your temper. It might help to keep a sense of perspective here. Remember - they’re like as not deliberately trying to rile you up. You don’t have to defend yourself. Just tell the truth. They’re not attacking you personally, they’re deliberately trying to get a rise out of you. And the best way to fight back at these hurtful implications is not to rise to them.


Hokey though it may seem, controlling your breathing really can help you to control your emotions. If we feel attacked or traumatized, our bodies will automatically put us into ‘fight or flight’ mode, during which our fast-acting, instinct-based emotions have primacy over our more considered rationality. By breathing in a deep, controlled manner, you can revert from ‘fight or flight’ to a more normal, resting state of being in which you will be much less impulsive. You’ll be able to express and feel your emotions - but they won’t be controlling you. It works very simply: when you’re in ‘fight or flight’, your body prepares itself for doing exactly that. Your heart beats faster, your muscles tense, you breathe sharply in order to oxygenate the blood. By mimicking the physical symptoms of being calm - i.e. slow, steady breathing, relaxed muscles etc - you can convince your brain that everything is ok and it can stop the ‘fight or flight’ response. It sounds odd, but it really does work. While concentrating on breathing deep and slow might not seem ideal when you’ve already got a lot on your mind, it’s worth trying if you know you’re likely to get het up and emotional.

Express Your Emotions Beforehand

Sometimes, things can take a while to come to trial. And sometimes, things can leave a raw, emotional wound for a very long time. However, if you can start to process your emotions before the trial begins, you may find that you’re in a better place to give evidence when it does come around. Of course, this may well not be possible. Processing things like grief and trauma is a long process, which differs immensely from person to person. It’s also a deeply personal process, which nobody can force along. Things like mindfulness and therapy may help if you want to get your head straight in time for your court date, but otherwise, just do what you can. If you can’t do this, however, don’t worry. Just breathe deep and keep a sense of perspective when you’re on the stand. And don’t worry - it will be ok!

Categories: Criminal Defense

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