TESTIMONY: preparing to talk to the Judge Being prepared to talk to the Judge and present your story well can make the difference in whether you win or lose your case. By the time of your final hearing, you will have submitted your application, prepared supporting documentation, and thought about your claim in great detail. Now you have the opportunity to present your story directly to the Judge. You must convince the Judge that you are truly in danger and have good reasons to fear going back, and that anyone else in your situation would also be afraid. The Judge will decide if he believes your story and if it meets the legal standard for protection.
How to Convince the Judge That You Are Telling the Truth: *Specifics and details: who, what, when, where, why, how
It is more likely that the Judge will believe your story if it is detailed and coherent. This means you must give specific details about your fears, and your overall story must make sense. It is very important that you are clear with the Judge about who it is you fear, why you fear them, what they have done or will do to you, etc. Look at the sheet “Writing Your Declaration” for more information on being specific.
To help convince the Judge that you are telling the truth, you need to answer all of the Judge’s questions completely and openly. Don’t hide anything, and don’t refuse to answer questions. If you do not remember an answer, say you don’t remember. If you don’t understand a question, ask for a clarification. Especially, don’t answer a question incorrectly because you think the answer will help you. Being honest will always help you more. Remember also that you can be criminally charged for lying under oath.
You want to be consistent between what you wrote in your application and declaration and what you say to the Judge in the courtroom. This means that you say the same things out loud as you wrote down. Know exactly what you put in your written documents so that you can be sure you explain it the same way to the Judge. If you aren’t sure of an exact date or number, always say “approximately” or “I think it was about...” You can also explain events in relation to each other: “The soldiers came to our village just after harvest.” If after reviewing your application and declaration you realize some of the information was incorrect, you should be sure to tell the Judge and explain why you are now making changes. Usually, the Judge will ask at the beginning of your final hearing if you want to make any changes or additions to your application. In case the Judge does not ask, be prepared to bring up the corrections right away.
How to Show the Judge that Your Case Meets the Legal Standard: Telling your story in your own words is very important. However, to win protection you must show how your story meets the legal definitions of asylum, withholding, or the Convention Against Torture. To better understand how your story fits in to these legal definitions, you can read the packet called “HOW TO APPLY FOR ASYLUM AND WITHHOLDING OF REMOVAL” which you can find in the library. You can also use the Worksheet called Thinking About Your Claim, or talk to the Florence Project staff.
*Techniques for preparing testimony
There are many different ways you can prepare yourself to talk to the Judge. You can talk about your case with others, and practice going over what you want to say. Friends can act as though they are the Judge or the attorney for Immigration, and ask you questions. You can also practice on your own by thinking about questions the Judge may ask you and making notes of your answers. Use the Worksheet on Thinking about your claim to help you.
If it is possible to have witnesses come talk to the Judge on your behalf, this can be very helpful. You should think about family members and friends who know of the conditions in your country and who have witnessed or have information about what happened to you. If they cannot come in person, they can also write letters to the Judge about what they know.
It is very important that you be complete and honest about your story, even with facts that might reflect badly on your case. You can ask for the opportunity to explain these potentially negative factors, and it will show the Judge you are trying to be open and complete about your story. If the BICE discovers the facts and brings them up before you say anything about them, it could appear to the Judge that you are trying to hide information.
The hearing can sometimes become tense, and it can be easy to get upset. However, always remember to be respectful towards the Judge, the lawyer for Immigration, and the other people in the court. This respect will go a long way towards helping your case. Also consider the differences that may exist between your country’s culture and the United States. For example, in many cultures it is considered a sign of disrespect to look an authority figure directly in the eye. However, in the United States looking someone in the eye when you are talking to them is a sign that you are being honest and open, and can also be a sign of respect.
The hearing often makes people nervous. Being nervous and apprehensive is normal, and many people feel this way in any kind of a court setting. It will help your case if you can remain calm, and pay careful attention to what is happening. If you appear confident in presenting your case, it will help the Judge to also be confident about your case.
*This will be difficult, but you can do it!
It can be painful and disturbing to remember events that happened to you in the past and to think about why you are afraid of returning to your home country. Forcing yourself to relive memories may also bring back the same emotions and fears. It is important to remember that you are explaining your memories and fears in order to help protect yourself and your family for the future. This takes a lot of courage. Give yourself plenty of time to prepare, take time out to relax and think of other things, and look for support from your family and friends. With advance preparation, it will be easier for you to discuss your story on the day of you hearing.
Created by the Florence Immigrant & Refugee Rights Project, Inc.
The Florence Project grants permission for the copying of this document, as is, for personal use or for free distribution to the BICE, to individuals in BICE custody, or to not-for-profit entities that assist Immigration detainees.