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What factors impact a person's credibility at trial?

Memories and perceptions can change over time, whether Knoxville residents realize it or not. While this may not cause many problems in everyday life, it can become a real issue in a lawsuit, where memories and perceptions are very important in establishing the facts of what happened in the incident.

Last week, this blog discussed the related issues that can arise where a person apologizes immediately after an accident occurs. The person may not fully realize how the crash was caused at that time, but the apology can later be used against the person to make it appear as if he or she caused the incident, even where that was not the case at all.

If a person later discovers how the accident truly occurred, after a better opportunity to learn the facts, he or she may think he can just explain this at trial. The problem is, however, that a jury or judge who is determining liability in the case may find issues with changes to the person's testimony. By the same token, if the negligent party on the other side of the case changes his or her testimony from the initial statements that were made these changes can be used against the person at trial.

All of these issues play into the credibility of the witness. The judge or jury is the one that determines whether a witness is credible, and there are a number of different factors that will be used to examine how truthful a witness may or may not be.

One of these factors is inconsistencies in the person's story over time. When there are discrepancies in the person's story, it can make it appear as though the person is not being truthful in how the incident actually occurred, because the general thought is that individuals should be consistent in their recollection of events. Accordingly, faced with these discrepancies, the judge or jury may decide to disregard part or all of a witness's story.

Of course, many other factors go into determining a witness's credibility, including their demeanor, prior history of lying and other considerations. All of these are important at trial on both sides of the case, as the side with more credible witnesses may end up with a better chance of success at trial.

Source: Tennessee Pattern Jury Instructions, "2006 Edition," accessed on May 8, 2015

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