Sunday, March 9, 2008

Tips for Testifying in Criminal Court

These are all the things I usually talk with people about before they testify. Maybe it will help you or your clients.

· Inside the courtroom – if you haven’t already been sworn in, you will be sworn in – you raise your right hand – listen to what they are saying – then say “I will.”

· Once you sit down, you may find that your heart starts beating quickly or you suddenly feel nervous. That is normal – even for people who testify a lot (like police officers or expert witnesses).

· Quietly take a deep breath – imagine the breath is going all the way to your stomach. Hold it and count to 3. Then slowly (and quietly) let it out. Do this 2 or 3 times.

· When you are speaking, don’t go too fast – the court reporter is taking notes of everything you say.

· The prosecutor will ask you some simple questions, like your name, what you do for a living, etc. Then they’ll get into more serious questions about the case.

· They may ask you to point out the defendant in the courtroom – this is the only time you have to look at him or her. They may ask you to describe something he or she is wearing – you might say “She has a blue shirt on.” Or “He is wearing a brown tie.”

· When you are answering questions, answer only the question the lawyer asks. Don’t try to guess at what they mean.

· Don’t try to be clever, cute, or augmentative. Be serious and sincere.

· If it feels comfortable, look at the jury when you are answering the questions – they are your audience.

· Sometimes you may get asked a question that you don’t know the answer to, or you may not understand the question. It is OK to say that you don’t understand or don’t know. You can even ask the lawyer to repeat the question.

· The defense attorney may act like she is mad at you or act like she thinks you are lying. Don't take it personally. Stay calm and only answer the questions she is asking. Don’t argue with the lawyers.

· If the defense asks you something that you think makes you look bad, if the prosecutor feels it is necessary, they will ask you a follow-up question when it is their turn.

· The most important thing: Tell the truth. Tell the truth. Tell the truth. Even if it makes you look bad or you feel that you did something bad or wrong, tell the truth. If you lie about anything, the jury might think you are lying about everything. Don’t be ashamed - Everybody has things in their life they wish they had done differently or there may be private things in your life that you don’t want other people to know.

· The lawyers can go back and forth and ask you questions –the prosecutor, then the defense attorney, then the prosecutor again.

· If one of the lawyers objects, stop talking. The judge will rule on whether you can answer the question. She will let you know if you can answer or not.

· The judge may tell you that “the rule” has been invoked. This basically means you can’t discuss the your testimony or other people’s testimony. The judge will explain more. No matter how much you want to talk about it – you cannot. You will jeopardize the case and your credibility if you do.

· Once you are finished testifying, the judge will excuse you. You may be excused to leave for good from the case, or you may be asked to remain in the courthouse. Or, the judge may let you leave the courthouse, but tell you that you will be “on call” should they need you later in the case.

· When you leave the stand, quietly walk out of the courtroom.
  • After you testify, you may feel nervous all over again. You may even feel tired. This is normal because you’ve just had to talk about something possibly personal or painful in front of a lot of strangers. Take some time after you testify to relax – take a hot bath, spend time with friends, go outside, do something relaxing.


jeremy said...

all of these things are true! i'm probably going to print this out and give it to witnesses. or probably just memorize it, that would go over better.

CJ Social Worker said...

Thanks Jeremy!

I'm glad you stopped by and I hope this info helps you.

I'm just so darned proud of you!

- cjsw

Raine said...

Thank you for these tips. It helped a lot.

CJ Social Worker said...

I'm really glad they did! It can be very empowering to testify and feel like you did the right thing.