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Different Perspectives on Body Language in the Courtroom

People inside the courtroom
Different Perspectives on Body Language in the Courtroom
on May, 15 2015
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In a courtroom, everyone should be mindful of each other’s body language. Even mere spectators can benefit from the ability to understand body language. However, attorneys, judges, jury, witnesses, and resource persons have particular interests in body language that help explain its importance and use while a trial is being undertaken.

Attorneys

There will be numerous instances when attorneys need more than just legal knowledge, research, and witnesses to win a case. It’s also important to be dynamic and quickly reactive in the courtroom. There are many unexpected things that are bound to happen so it helps having a way to read into the situation by examining everyone’s body language. Attorneys need to carefully observe the body language of the judge, the jury, witnesses, resource speakers, and even the crowd within the room.

Basically, an attorney has to be able to assess if the witness or resource person is lying, or partially telling the truth. If a person lies or tries to mislead, it’s important to use questions that break into the person’s guarded and restrictive statements, or to probe deeper to make them reveal inconsistencies and throw them off the script. Some signs of lying are covering the mouth, uneasiness manifested by the unwitting movements of certain body parts, and (usually) the refusal to make eye contact.

On the other hand, an attorney should also show body language that exudes authority, certainty, and presence of mind not only to be convincing to the judge and jury, but also to reassure clients.

Attorneys can use the techniques called “anchoring” and “mirroring” to exploit nonverbal communication when presenting a case.

"Anchoring" is a technique wherein a lawyer attaches a specific item, location, or gesture to an evidence or theme, and "Mirroring", is the technique of subtly using a person’s gestures, habitual words and arguments, and notable behavior when interacting with the person.

Judge

This is not meant to educate judges but the lawyers, witnesses, and invited resource persons.

Judges seldom worry about their body language but are inclined to look into the body language of the lawyers, witnesses, and resource persons. With the many years of experience they have in observing court processes, most of them have mastered the art of looking into people’s intentions. There are even judges who would scold lawyers for presenting a lousy case.

To avoid offending judges, most experienced attorneys would recommend being “natural.” Veteran judges can easily detect and get irritated with attempts at making grand gestures, scripted responses and emotions, false outrage, and arrogance not just on the part of the lawyer but also on witnesses.

Frowning, a raised eyebrow, a surprised look, agitation, and other emotions can usually be easily perceived in the face of the judges. It’s important to be mindful of these especially when you are in a situation wherein it appears extremely difficult to make the judge accept your line of questioning or when the other attorney’s objections are successively getting sustained.

Jury

There is a tendency for the jury to move or react as one so it’s relatively easy reading into their reactions. Also, the members of the jury usually become a tight group quite easily so their faces when they are convinced or displeased may “corroborate” each other’s. Since most members of the jury are not trained on how they should carry themselves to make sure that they always look impartial and unaffected, attorneys usually should be able to see if they find what they hear acceptable through their stares, eyebrows, slight nods, smiles or grins, confused look, or faces that seem to want more convincing and eager to have the questioning furthered.

Witnesses and Resource Persons

Often, witnesses and resource persons don’t need to decipher the body language of people around them. Instead, they are usually being trained or oriented on how to carry themselves to appear credible or convincing in the courtroom. The basics of this “orientation” include the need to look calm and composed, refraining from doing unnecessary movements, and being able to make eye contact as much as possible.

Litigation Paralegals

Paralegals are important because they assist attorneys during the litigation process. They are considered as the trial team’s backbone since they are responsible for the coordination of the multitude of details needed before, at the instance, and after a trial. During the actual trial, paralegals serve as the right hand of an attorney. They are tasked with the organization of exhibits and evidences, the transporting and arrangement of files in the courtroom, the preparation of the witnesses and research, as well as the evaluation of prospective jurors. It’s only expected that they must be very observant of everything that is happening in the courtroom. They have to be mindful of body language in the courtroom and even outside of it.

For paralegals, their two main concerns when it comes to evaluating body language are the witnesses and the jury. They need to be conscious of how the witnesses feel and what needs to be done to extract the right response from the witnesses. An attorney cannot risk sending to the stand a witness who will only end up becoming a hostile witness. It is the duty of the paralegal to spot hints in a witness who may become a liability instead of helping boost an attorney’s case. Moreover, paralegals also have to carefully observe the actions and reactions of the jury to help their attorneys in formulating the right questions to ask and in establishing the proper strategy in approaching the jury. Paralegals, in particular, have to closely observe jurors during voir dire, especially in regards to how each juror reacts to another juror’s statements. It also helps being able to identify who among the jurors emerge as the leaders and followers.

Paralegals don’t necessarily have to observe the paralegals on the other side. It’s a useless attempt of trying to derive inspiration from the competition. It would be more productive for paralegals to focus on the witness and the jurors, and maybe to some extent, the judge.

Interpreters

For the most part, interpreters shouldn’t be looking too much into the body language of witnesses so they don’t end up offering partial interpretations. After all, it’s easy for humans to sympathize with victims while demonizing the assailants or defendants. It is advisable for interpreters to simply translate the words spoken by people in a courtroom based on what was said and perhaps to some degree the context of what was said. Reading body languages may just get paralegals drawn into the courtroom drama, something that is never ideal. Interpreters need to maintain their impartiality and precision in interpreting.

Body language interpretation, is about verifying the spoken message of a person. The gestures, posture, hand movements, facial expressions, and mannerisms of a person while speaking, especially in venues like the courtroom, can affirm or stir doubts on the truthfulness of what they says. In particular, body language, as observed during a hearing, is greatly useful for attorneys and judges when reading between the lines of an affidavit translated from another language. Judges learn to master the art of body language interpretation over time with the nature of their job while attorneys and witnesses or resource persons need to be meticulously mindful of body language to make it work for their case.

Let us know your thoughts on this subject. We appreciate your participation in the discussion.

AUTHOR
Day Translations Team

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