Testifying As A Witness

Being a victim or witness to a crime is seldom a pleasant experience. However, much of the frustration associated with being a witness is not understanding what to expect. The process of justice takes time. Patience and commitment are essential.

Witnesses are called to testify about what they saw, heard, or did which may be relevant to the charges against the defendant. The party calling a witness to the witness stand asks questions of the witness first. Next, the opposing attorney has the right to "cross-examine" the witness. Witnesses are often excluded from the court room when other witnesses are testifying. This is to ensure that the testimony or memory of one witness does not influence the testimony of another.

The following are some pointers to aid in being a good witness:

  • Above all, be truthful. Don't exaggerate or shade your testimony. Tell the facts, simply and concisely.
  • Be attentive. Listen carefully to the questions. If you do not understand a question, ask that it be repeated or explained.
  • Answer only the question asked. Do not try to say everything at once or volunteer information that is not requested.
  • Explain the answer, if necessary. If a question cannot be answered truthfully and fully with a "yes" or "no" answer, it is acceptable to answer the question completely so that the jury is not misled by a simple "yes" or "no."
  • Do not guess. Give definite answers whenever possible. If the answer to a question is not known, do not be afraid to say so. Do not stop to figure out whether the answer will help or hurt either the prosecution or the defense.
  • Be prepared. Do not try to memorize what will be said; try to recall relevant facts.
  • If asked, "Have you talked to anyone about the case" - do not forget conversations with the District Attorney's Office, defense attorney, staff from Victim/Witness or other community agencies, investigators, or others.
  • When an attorney objects to a question, do not answer the question until the judge rules on the objection and requires an answer to the question. If the judge agrees with the ground for an objection, the objection will be "sustained". When the judge does not believe the objection has merit, the objection will be "overruled." If confused, ask the judge for direction.
  • Remain calm and courteous. Do not become angry, as it may diminish the impact of the testimony.
  • Speak clearly and loudly. Respond to the person asking the questions, but make sure you speak clearly enough to be heard by the jury. Give all answers verbally and not by gestures or head movements.
  • Dress neatly and always show respect for the court. For example wearing hats or chewing gum is generally not acceptable in court.
  • Be yourself. The judge, jurors, and attorneys are human also and appreciate sincerity.