Professor Laird’s Playbook – Using Video Depositions at Trial


More and more these days, witnesses are presented at trial through video deposition excerpts, either by necessity because they are unavailable at trial (out-of-state witnesses, treating physicians, etc.) or by choice (to streamline the case or in situations where an adverse witness’s testimony will never get better than it was at deposition).

Some tips:

  • Keep the video edits as short as possible, 15 minutes or less if possible.  Don’t just pop the entire video in and hit “play.”
  • Hire a good video editor.  Get the edits on VHS and DVD formats.
  • Have a copy of the edits and a written page/line designation to give to the court reporter for the record.  It will save him or her from having to record the testimony at trial.
  • Ask the judge in pretrial to instruct the jury that they will see and hear video deposition testimony, which is meant to speed the trial and which is to be given the same weight as if the witness was live at trial.
  • Ask the judge to point out that the lawyers have edited the videos with the judge’s approval (here in Tarrant County, at least, the parties have to exchange designate portions of the depos they wish to use at trial and the court rules on objections to those designations prior to trial).  Often the editing causes the image on the screen to jump around a bit or cut off a word or two.  I had one juror tell me after trial that this made her suspicious that the attorneys were trying to pull a fast one on the jury by splicing the testimony.  Get the judge to explain this before your jurors draw that conclusion in their minds!
  • Think about the timing of showing your video depos.  Consider interspersing them in between live witnesses.  Be careful about showing them right after lunch or at the end of the day.
  • As much as possible, coordinate your video edits with those to be shown by the other side.  Jurors don’t like hearing the same testimony again when the defense offers their tender right after the plaintiff shows his.
  • When taking the deposition, keep in mind that the jury may later see the video and they may compare your dress and demeanor during deposition with that at trial.  For example, if you tone down your usual jewelry when you’re in trial, don’t forget to take off that flashy watch during the depo.  Don’t be a jerk in deposition and then a choirboy in trial.
  • In a lengthy trial, take a still shot of the witness’s face from the video depo and blow it up or show it on an ELMO during closing argument to remind the jurors of the witness.

Clearly, there is no substitute for a live witness. However, when done right, video depos can be effective and time-saving, so long as they are not too long and are not overused.