Section 5: Lecture Content and Teaching Notes
Practical Supervision Strategies
4 hours, 30 minutes
TOPIC: TESTIFYING IN COURT
(30 minutes, including Learning Activity)
There are two scenarios in which a probation or parole officer might be called upon in court to testify regarding a sex offender. The first scenario is at the sentencing stage, when a probation officer might be asked to testify regarding the results of a pre-sentence investigation. The second scenario is when an offender violates his probation or parole, and testimony is being taken at a revocation hearing in court (or, in the case of parole, before a hearing officer, parole supervisor, or parole board). This is a challenging but important part of a probation/parole officer's job.
The first requirement for competent trial testimony is impeccable documentation. The third section of this training focused on the case file and assembling appropriate documentation. Cumming and Buell note the following issue areas to consider when called upon to testify in court:7
Preparation. It is extremely important that you prepare yourself for testimony by thoroughly reviewing your case file. You should be thoroughly familiar with all the documentation, beginning with the pre-sentence investigation, all of your case notes, and all entries having to do with violation behavior. Be prepared to provide justification to the court for your actions and decisions. Meet with the prosecutor and be sure that he or she has a complete understanding of everything you may testify to in court. Discuss what the prosecution might ask and how to respond.
- Remember that you are a supervision expert. As an experienced probation or parole officer, you are likely much more well-versed in the issues surrounding sex offender supervision than the judge, the prosecution, or the defense. You should be prepared to discuss the rationale for special conditions of supervision and for your approach to supervision. Remember that you are in the business of risk control, which is reflected in your various activities and supervision level. The treatment provider is in the business of risk reduction, involving the offender in a course of therapy that will reduce the likelihood of future sex offending. Be careful not to be placed in a position where you are also casting yourself as a treatment expert. The defense may seize on this stance and attempt to discredit you and your testimony on the grounds that you are not a treatment expert.
- Dress appropriately for the courtroom. You will increase your credibility as a professional and an expert if you dress conservatively and neatly.
- Remain objective at all times. No matter how you may feel about the offender, the violation about which you are testifying, or what he has done in the past, you should maintain objective and proper demeanor at all times. If you become emotional or reveal your distaste for the offender, his behavior, or the defense, you will undermine your stature as an objective witness.
- Use clear, understandable language. Do not lapse into acronyms or jargon that may not be understood. Remember that you are likely to be more knowledgeable than anyone else in the courtroom and as such, part of the role of your testimony is to educate the other players. You should refrain from using equivocal statements such as "I think."
- Be brief and accurate in your answers. Be sure to listen to the questions carefully. Pause briefly to reflect on the question. Give short, clear answers. If you do not understand the question, ask for clarification.
- Be particularly alert when a defense attorney summarizes your statements. Listen and correct any error, no matter how small.
|LEARNING ACTIVITY: DISCUSSION QUESTIONS|
Participants who have had the opportunity to testify in court or before a parole board on a revocation issue undoubtedly have experiences to share with other participants.
- What are some of the typical issues/questions that arise in testimony?
- How have you typically prepared yourself to testify?
- Are there any particular lessons you've taken from this experience that would be helpful to your fellow participants?