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What Is a Legal Deposition?

Depositions are given under oath.
Legal depositions may be used during the trial if the witness is not available to testify.
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  • Written By: Dee S.
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 10 October 2014
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A legal deposition is the testimony taken out of court from a person who is still under oath. It is a good way for lawyers to find out information about the case. They ask the person under deposition, or deponent, pointed questions to clear up ambiguities or learn details about the case. In some cases, only one lawyer may question the deponent; in other cases, several lawyers from several different parties may ask the deponent questions.

There are several different methods of recording the questions asked and answers given during the course of a legal deposition. There will always be a court reporter present. She may take handwritten notes; however, that practice has largely been replaced by more technical equipment, such as a transcription machine or a computer that records and transforms the human voice into typed words. In addition, many lawyers like to use audio-visual equipment to record and videotape the deposition. As a result, the exact words, the emphasis the deponent places on a given word, and the deponent’s body language are all recorded and may be replayed during a courtroom trial.

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Besides determining facts of the case, a legal deposition also helps lawyers decide whether they want to call a witness to testify during trial. Sometimes a seemingly important witness becomes rather unimportant after a deposition, or vice versa. In addition, the details learned during the course of a deposition can be very important to trial preparation. For example, if a deponent admits a fact that she previously denied, the admission will be used against her in court. Also, if the deponent is not available during trial, her deposition may be used in lieu of her presence, if her absence is allowed under law.

Sometimes documents are presented during a legal deposition. The documents may be used to refresh the deponent’s memory or to have the deponent answer questions related to a specific document. In most cases, several copies of each document will be presented during the legal deposition: one for the deponent, one for each of the lawyers attending the deposition, and one for the court reporter.

A deponent will meet with her lawyer before the legal deposition occurs. It is unethical for the lawyer to tell the deponent what to say; however, the lawyer may review documents and the issues of the case with her client. During the deposition, it is best if the deponent keeps her answers concise and, of course, truthful. When the deponent begins making assumptions, simply to answer a question, she may run into trouble during the course of the deposition or during trial.

Not all countries have legal depositions and the countries that do allow depositions, such as the United States, India, and Canada, have strict guidelines that can vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Countries that follow the common law legal system, such as England, New Zealand, and Australia, do not have depositions. Although those courts do not accept depositions, there are companies that offer deposition-related services for lawyers deposing a witness in those countries.

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