Legal Definition of Deposition: Everything You Need to Know
A deposition occurs when lawyers take the sworn testimony of a witness prior to a trial that is held out of court with no judge present.5 min read
What Is a Deposition?
A deposition occurs when lawyers take the sworn testimony of a witness prior to a trial that is held out of court with no judge present. The witness is placed under oath and lawyers for each party may ask questions. The questions and answers are recorded. When a person is unavailable to testify during a trial, the deposition of that person may be used. It's consistently used during the pre-trial discovery (fact-finding) process.
A deposition may also be the testimony of a witness reduced to writing in due form of law, taken by virtue of a commission or other authority of a competent tribunal. Before it is taken, the witness ought to be sworn or affirmed to declare the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. It should properly be written by the commissioner appointed to take it, or by the witness himself, or by one not interested in the matter in dispute, who is properly authorized by the commissioner. It should answer all the interrogating questions, and be signed by both the witness and the commissioner. When the witness cannot write, it ought to be so stated, and they should make their mark or cross.
Depositions in Criminal Cases
Depositions in criminal cases cannot be taken without the consent of the defendant. The law states, "that when the testimony of any person shall be necessary in any civil cause depending in any district, in any court of the United States, who shall live at a greater distance from the place of trial than one hundred miles, or is bound on a voyage to sea, or is about to go out of the United States, or out of such district, and to a greater distance from the place of trial than as aforesaid, before the time of trial, or is ancient, or very infirm, the deposition of such person may be taken de bene esse, before any justice or judge of any of the courts of the United States, or before any chancellor, justice, or judge of a supreme or superior court, mayor, or chief magistrate of a city, or judge of a county court or court of common pleas of any of the United States, not being of counsel or attorney to either of the parties, or interested in the event of the cause; provided that a notification from the magistrate before whom the deposition is to be taken, to the adverse party, to be present at the taking of the same, and to put interrogatories, if he sees fit, be first made out and served to the adverse party or his attorney, as either may be nearest, if either is within one hundred miles of the place of such caption, allowing time for their attendance after being notified of not less than at the rate of one day, Sundays exclusive, for every twenty miles travel."
Admiralty and Maritime Jurisdictions
In causes of admiralty and maritime jurisdiction, or other causes of seizure, when a libel shall be filed, in which an adverse party is not named, and depositions of persons circumstanced as aforesaid, shall be taken before a claim be put in, the like notification, as aforesaid, shall be given to the person having the agency or possession of the property libeled at the time of the capture or seizure of the same, if known to the libelant.
Every person deposing as aforesaid, shall be carefully examined and cautioned, and sworn or affirmed to testify the whole truth, and shall subscribe the testimony by him or her given, after the same shall be reduced to writing done only by the magistrate taking the deposition, or by the deponent in his presence.
The deposition so taken shall be retained by such magistrate, until he deliver the same with his own, hand into the court for which they are taken, or shall, together with a certificate of the reasons as aforesaid, of their being taken, and of the notice, if any given, to the adverse party, be by him, the said magistrate, sealed up and directed to such court, and remain under his seal until opened in court.
Any person may be compelled to appear and depose as aforesaid, in the same manner as to appear and testify in court. In the trial of any cause of admiralty or maritime jurisdiction in a district court, the decree in which may be appealed from, if either party shall suggest to and satisfy the court, that probably it will not be in his power to produce the witnesses there testifying before the circuit court should an appeal be had, and shall move that their testimony shall be taken down in writing, it shall be so done by the clerk of the court.
If an appeal occurred, such testimony may be used on the trial of the same, if it shall appear to the satisfaction of the court, which shall try the appeal, that the witnesses are then dead, or gone out of the United States, or to, a greater distance than as aforesaid, from the place where the court is sitting; or that, by reason of age, sickness, bodily infirmity, or imprisonment, they are unable to travel or, appear at court, but not otherwise.
Unless the same shall be made to appear on the trial of any cause, with respect to witnesses whose depositions may have been taken therein, such depositions shall not be admitted or used in the cause. Provided, that nothing herein shall be construed to prevent any court of the United States from granting a dedimus potestatem, to take depositions according to common usage when it may be necessary to prevent a failure or delay of justice; which power they shall severally possess nor to extend to depositions taken in perpetuam rei memoriam, which, if they relate to matters that may be cognizable in any court of the United States, a circuit court, on application thereto made as a court of equity, may, according to the usages in chancery, direct to be taken.
Clerk of the Court
The clerk of any court of the United States within which a witness resides or where he is found is allowed to issue a subpoena to compel the attendance of such witness, and a neglect of the witness to attend may be punished by the court whose clerk has issued the subpoena, as a contempt. When papers are wanted by the parties' litigant, the judge of the court within which they are may issue a subpoena duces tecum, and enforce obedience by punishment for a contempt.
The act of depriving a clergyman, by a competent tribunal, of his clerical orders, to punish him for some offense, and to prevent his acting in future in his clerical character.