Saturday, August 19, 2017
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TESTIFYING IN COURT

The following suggestions may help you if you have to testify:

  • Tell the truth! This is the single most important advice any witness should remember.
  • Dress neatly! A neat appearance and proper dress in court give an important first, and lasting, impression.
  • Be prepared! You should know days or weeks ahead of time that you will be testifying in court. Think about the incident and what happened so that you can recall the details accurately when you are asked in court. If you need help remembering these details, write the facts down. If you have already written a statement for the police, ask the prosecutor's office for a copy - reading it may jog your memory on some details. Think ahead of time about the answers you will give to the questions you expect will be asked.

  • Do not lose your temper! Be courteous. Don't let the lawyers upset you. It may seem at times that an attorney is trying to pin you down, but he or she has a right to test how many of the facts you know and accurately remember.
  • Don't start to give your answer until the question is finished. If you have not yet heard the entire question, you don't really know what you are being asked. Don't "jump the gun" by answering what you think the question will be.
  • Think about your answer before you give it. Your every word counts. Be descriptive. Be accurate. Vague or inconsistent responses give other people a chance to misinterpret what you meant your answer to be.
  • Answer all questions to the point. If the question calls for a short answer, give a short answer. If you are asked to explain, explain.
  • Answer only the question asked! Do not volunteer information. If the lawyers want to know more, they will ask.
  • Don't exaggerate or guess! If you don't know the answer to a question, say so. If you don't remember the information that you are asked, say so. Guessing is not telling the truth.
  •  Answer the questions verbally. Your testimony is being recorded - either tape recorded or written down. Head shakes and head nods are not able to be recorded. Also, instead of saying "uh-huh" or "uh-uh", say "yes" or "no".
  •  If you are comfortable about it, look at the jury when answering. Jurors are ordinary people like yourself - they won't harm you. However, they will consider your attitude, facial expressions, and body language when evaluating your testimony.
  •  Never attempt to talk to a juror about anything while the case is being tried. This includes chance meetings during recesses, lunch, or after court is finished for the day.
  • If either lawyer raises an objection, stop speaking at once! After the judge has ruled on the objection, you will be instructed whether or not to continue your answer.
  • Do not try to memorize what you will say in court! Jurors are hesitant to believe testimony that sounds "scripted." Also, the lawyers' questions may not coincide with your expected answers.
  • Stick to the facts! The judge or jury only wants to hear the facts as you know them to be, not what someone else told you.
  • Expect to be questioned by several people. One of the basic rules in a criminal case is that both sides have a chance to question every witness. Questions asked by both sides have the same goal - to find out what is true. 

Several other rules:

  • If you don't understand or hear a question, ask that it be repeated or explained.
  • If your answer was not correctly stated, correct it immediately.
  • The prosecutor's office will assist you with any questions you may have prior to testifying in the courtroom.
Copyright 2017 by Cass County Prosecutor's Office