These are some simple tips for victims and witnesses testifying in court.
*These tips do not constitute legal advice – we always recommend seeking professional legal advice.
21 TIPS FOR WITNESSES
- TELL THE TRUTH
Do not stop to figure out whether your answer will help or hurt the case. Just answer the questions to the best of your memory.
- BEFORE YOU TESTIFY
Try to picture the scene, the objects there, the distances and just what happened, so that you can recall more accurately when you are asked. If you have given a statement about this case and would like to read it over before the trial, ask to see a copy.
- DON’T GUESS
If you don’t know, say so, but don’t speculate if you don’t know the answer.
- LISTEN CAREFULLY TO THE QUESTIONS ASKED OF YOU. Never answer a question you don’t understand. If you don’t understand it, ask the lawyer to repeat the question.
- TAKE YOUR TIME. Give a thoughtful, considered answer.
- ANSWER ONLY THE QUESTIONS THAT IS ASKED YOU, THEN STOP. Don’t volunteer additional information.
- SPEAK LOUDLY AND CLEARLY so everyone can hear you. Don’t not your head “Yes,” or “No.” Make sure everyone can hear your answer. Keep your hands away from your mouth while speaking.
- GIVE YOUR ANSWERS IN YOUR OWN WORDS. Do not attempt to memorize what you are going to say.
- GIVE A POSITIVE ANSWER IF YOU CAN. Avoid such phrases as, “I think,” I” believe,” or “In my opinion.” The judge and the jury are interested in only the facts. Don’t give them your conclusions or opinions.
- IF A QUESTION CAN’T BE ANSWERED TRUTHFULLY WITH A “YES” OR NO”, ask for the opportunity to explain your answer in greater detail. If your answer is not clear, clarify it immediately.
- IF YOU ANSWER QUESTIONS ABOUT DISTANCES, SPEED OR TIME WITH AN ESTIMATE, make sure you say it is only an estimate.
- ADDRESS MOST OF YOUR ANSWERS TO THE JURY While you are on the stand, speak frankly and openly to the members of the jury, as you would to any friend or neighbor.
- STOP TALKING IMMEDIATELY WHEN THE JUDGE INTERRUPTS YOU, or when an attorney objects to a question.
- DON’T LOOK AT THE ATTORNEY OR THE JUDGE FOR HELP IN ANSWERING A QUESTION, You are on your own. If a question is improper, the opposing attorney will object. If the judge wants you to answer it, do so. Don’t ask the judge for advice.
- BE COURTEOUS. Answer “Yes, Sir.” “No, Sir.” Or “Yes, Ma’am” “No, Ma’am”. Address the Judge as “Your Honor.”
- DO NOT LOSE YOUR TEMPER. Even if the lawyer questioning you seems to be discourteous, don’t let him or her upset you.
- DON’T ARGUE WITH THE LAWYER, who asks a question. Don’t answer a question with a question unless you do not understand the question that is asked.
- IF ASKED WHETHER YOU HAVE TALKED TO A LAWYER, ADMIT IT FREELY. If asked, tell the court to whom you spoke – prosecutors, investigators, police officers, attorneys, etc., and that you were just asked what the facts were. Remember, you are not getting paid for your testimony. You are being reimbursed for the inconvenience and expense that being a witness has caused you.
- DRESS NEATLY. Avoid distracting mannerisms such as chewing gum.
- BE SERIOUS IN THE COURTROOM. Avoid making jokes and wisecracks. A court case is a serious manner.
- TRY NOT TO BE NERVOUS. We hope these tips will help you feel more comfortable about testifying. If you tell the truth, and if you remember that you are just talking to friends and neighbors, you will do just fine.