Laying all other business aside, prepare to be deposed!
So, you are sitting in the squad room and you get a letter. It looks official enough and you have 10 minutes before roll call so you open it. Lo and behold, it is a subpoena for your deposition. You scratch your head and read it recalling the name of the plaintiff as someone your beat partner arrested about 18 months ago. You know you are not sued so you are really not concerned. However, when it comes to the law, what you don’t know can hurt you!
What does it mean to appear at a deposition? You remember from school leaders and kings who were “deposed” and that did not seem like a pleasant process or outcome! Fortunately, this is different. A deposition is a process used during court cases to obtain testimony under oath that may be used later during the trial. Although they can be used in criminal cases, most depositions are taken in civil cases.
During the typical deposition, the lawyers will ask questions about your knowledge of and involvement in an incident, and sometimes your training and understanding of departmental policy. Although the process seems informal, it is very serious. Your deposition testimony can be used in court and can also be used to justify adding you to an existing lawsuit! Therefore, you should never appear at a deposition without an attorney. The only exception may be when the deposition concerns an accident you investigated and your department, government entity and fellow officers have not been named in the suit.
There are three reasons why you should always notify an attorney and your chain of command if you receive a subpoena for your deposition. First, you will need to make certain that you can appear at a convenient time when you are well rested. Do not appear at 0900 when you just finished your shift! Second, you will need time to prepare and access to the documents necessary to allow you to prepare. Finally, if the deposition concerns your department, the department should provide a lawyer to help you prepare and to sit with you to ensure your rights are protected.
Like anything else, a deposition can be intimidating because it is unfamiliar territory. However, if you are properly prepared and well represented, there is nothing to fear.