One of the duties of a court reporter is putting a witness under oath, most often as a notary public. While this may sound simple, there are occasionally quirky things that happen that make it difficult or impossible to do so. These are just a few of the hiccups that court reporters may face on the job.
By TelephoneWhile some states still allow telephonic depositions where the witness is sworn in via telephone, many states do not allow it. The Florida court reporter, for example, is not allowed to swear in the witness via telephone. Neither is the Virginia court reporter. They can still take the person’s testimony, but it cannot state that the witness was sworn. If a notary is physically present at the other location with the witness and can positively identify the person, the notary then creates and signs a certificate validating the identity of the witness. A similar process is in place for videoconferencing in some states as well. If this is not allowed by the state’s notary office, the attorneys will need to arrange for a court reporter to swear in and take down the testimony in the physical presence of the witness while the lawyers are on the telephone at another location. Although some attorneys may attempt to stipulate that the witness’ testimony may be used in a court of law regardless of the notary’s ability to swear them in, this is still not allowed in some states, such as Virginia.
Uncooperative WitnessThere are people in the world who will not swear, and those who will not say the common words of an oath, “so help me God.” There are also those who have no problem doing so unless their adversary is in the room and they choose to be difficult simply for the sake of doing so. Most states will allow the witness to affirm, rather than swear. This can also be done in most venues without a bible. When placing the witness under oath, this hiccup can be avoided by the notary public saying “swear or affirm,” so long as it is acceptable by the state notary office or clerk of court in that jurisdiction.
ChildrenWhile children are seldom used as witnesses in litigation, it is sometimes necessary to place them under oath. There is often debate about a child’s ability to swear. Instead, they can be “promised to tell the truth.” The attorney or judge conducting the examination will need to demonstrate the child’s ability to understand the difference between the truth and a lie. They will also need to demonstrate that the child understands the seriousness and possible repercussions if they do not tell the truth. Once these are established, the child’s testimony may be taken and the questioning may begin.
NameIn a noisy courtroom, it is sometimes difficult to hear or understand the name of the next witness as they are called. Judges and attorneys sometimes forget to enunciate or ask the witness to do so. They may not know how to spell the person’s name and do not think to ask the witness to do that either. In the event that legal transcription services are ordered, the court reporter may need to check the court file or call the attorney’s office for positive confirmation of the identity of the individual.