If You Have to Testify
As a witness, you may be unfamiliar with the procedures of a criminal hearing or trial. This document is designed to provide guidelines in preparing for your testimony in court.
- 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. Think about the incident and what happened so that you can recall the details accurately when you are asked in court.
- Do not try to memorize what you will say in court. Jurors are hesitant to believe testimony that sounds “scripted”.
- 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.
- Relax… speak clearly. You have nothing to fear when giving true answers.
- 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.
- Do not lose your temper. Be courteous. Don’t let the defense lawyer upset you.
- Don’t start to answer a question until the question is finished. If you haven’t yet heard the entire question, you don’t really know what you’re being asked.
- Think about your answer before you give it. Be descriptive. Be accurate.
- Answer only the question asked. Do not volunteer additional information.
- 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 about, say so.
- Answer the questions verbally. Your testimony is being recorded (either tape recorded or written down). No head shakes or head nods, or “uh-huh” / “uh-uh” instead of “yes” / “no”.
- Look at the jurors and speak to them when testifying. Jurors are ordinary people, like yourself. They consider attitude, facial expressions and body language when evaluating testimony.
- If you don’t understand or didn’t hear the question, ask that it be explained or repeated.
- Never attempt to talk to a juror about the case or any other matter while the case is being tried. This includes chance meetings during recesses, in hallways, at lunch, or any other place.
- If either lawyer raises an objection, stop speaking at once. After the Judge has ruled, you will be instructed whether or not to continue.
The Solicitor’s Office will assist you with any questions you may have prior to your court appearance.