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How the PATDOWN will help you keep your cool in court

As the defense attorney launches questions on cross-examination, stay in the moment and be situationally aware


By Rae Randolph

Rapid-pace questioning is a method defense attorneys often use to keep a witness off guard. A countermove to this is what I call the PATDOWN. Quite simply it means Pause and Think, Don’t Overwork the Narrative.

Let’s’ start with the “Pause and Think” part.

As the defense attorney launches questions on cross-examination, just pause and keep your mental faculties together. Slow everything down in your mind. Stay in the moment and be situationally aware. Don’t try to anticipate their next question. Wait for it. Keep breathing. Work your training.

Isn’t this similar to the mindset you are taught to use in high-stress scenarios such as an active shooter or hostage situations? Same concept, different location. The players may look more sophisticated and less threatening, but they are not. In addition, you have something the adversary doesn’t – information. Make the attorney work for it. With each question launched at you, pause and think before you answer.

Now let’s talk about the “Don’t Overwork your Narrative.”

If the question you are asked calls for a yes or no, then just answer with a “yes” or “no.” Don’t think beyond that particular question because that naturally makes you want to make excuses, offer explanations, clean up previous testimony, or make your report look or sound better. Don’t fall into that trap. It is a trap! Just answer only the question the defense attorney asks. When they become frustrated, sarcastic, or caustic because you are not engaging in face-to-face combat and are answering with short, to-the-point answers, you will keep your cool under fire.

A crucial factor at play here is that you know your report cold. I cannot emphasize it enough that you must be intimately familiar with your report and what you did or didn’t do. This makes short and to-the-point answers easier. Let the attorney do the follow-up “why” or “how” questions to your “yes” or “no” answers. Once an attorney ventures into these areas where they don’t know the answer, they have lost control of the cross in that moment.

Do not try to offer the defense attorney a lifeline by overworking the narrative. If you fall into the trap of thinking you must add or subtract from your report or make up or add something that may not be in there, you are opening yourself up to vulnerability and control by the defense. Stick to what is in the report. That is your narrative. That is your cover.

Another benefit of the “PATDOWN” is the jury will see you keeping your cool. I have seen cases where the court may let the defense attorney “discipline” the witness who seems confrontational. Alternatively, the court may admonish both the attorney and the witness. You don’t want that to happen. Keep your cool and you will keep your credibility. Most juries do not like high-stress, antagonistic situations played out in front of them and so they tend to defer to the one who appears “safe.” Make that be you.

Note: It should be pointed out here that it is the duty of the prosecutor to “clean up” any testimony you may have offered that was incomplete. In my experience, young prosecutors are asleep at the switch when it comes to this. Try to meet with your prosecutor before court and talk to them about any discrepancies or potential problems you may see in your reports that are part of the evidence.

About the author

Rae Randolph practiced law as a criminal defense attorney in Colorado and Minnesota. She currently assists La Plata County Search and Rescue (LPCSAR) and La Plata County Sheriff’s Department with her K9 GSD, Oso. She is also a member of Colorado Forensic Canines, where she supports various law enforcement agencies with crime scene investigations in addition to search and recovery missions for private parties and non-profits. Rae’s K9 Oso is certified pursuant to NAPWDA in Human Remains Detection. She has been certified as a Rule 702 Expert in court.