The following material is reproduced from the manual "You're
Going to be a Witness. What Now?", produced by the State Bar of
You’re a Witness - Now What?
you may be called as a witness in a court proceeding. You may have seen a
car accident or witnessed a crime, or you may be directly involved in a
trial. You may be appearing voluntarily or, in some cases, you may be
served with a subpoena summoning you to appear in court. You have to
obey a subpoena or suffer legal penalties.
Whether you are required to appear or do so voluntarily, you
should cooperate and take the job seriously. Your testimony will be
important to a fair and just trial. These suggestions may help when you
appear as a witness:
Stay cool - Don’t let the strange and formal
environment of the courtroom upset your composure. Be yourself and stay
as relaxed as possible.
Be On Time - The Court must handle many cases. Your tardiness could seriously interfere with the court’s schedule.
Be Presentable - Court business is a serious matter. Dress accordingly.
Be Attentive - Don’t lounge and slump. Sit upright
in the witness chair and be alert. Listen carefully to every question.
If you don’t understand something, ask to have it repeated as many times
as necessary. Don’t answer a question you don’t understand. Answer
directly, thoughtfully, and truthfully.
Don’t Argue - No matter which side called you as a
witness; be polite and courteous to the Judge or the lawyer asking the
questions. Hold your temper and never argue with the person questioning
you. It could reflect on your believability and tend to lessen the
importance of your testimony.
Do Not Volunteer Anything - Answer only the question
being asked. If a simple "yes" or "no" cannot answer it, then answer in
more detail, but stick to the question and don’t go beyond it.
Do Not Guess - Answer only what you know or saw
yourself. Do not speculate or guess. If you do not know the answer to a
particular question, just say so and wait for the next question. There’s
no need to apologize.
Do Not Talk Out of Turn - Sometimes one of the
lawyers may object to a question being asked. This is the lawyer’s
right. The objection may be raised before you answer, or while you are
answering. When this happens, stop talking right away. The Judge will
rule on the objection, and then instruct you whether or not to answer.
Speak to the Jury - If the case is being tried
before a jury; direct your answers to them. If it is a case without a
jury, answer so that the Judge can hear and see you. Eye contact helps
to establish your relationship with the Judge and jury.
Speak Clearly - Don’t mumble or be vague. The court
reporter must be able to record every word. Each juror needs to hear the
answers. Speak in a clear and confident tone of voice.
Correct Any Mistakes - A wrong answer should be
corrected immediately. Unclear answers should be fully explained.
Everything goes on the transcript. Don’t be embarrassed or hesitate to
correct and answer during the time you are on the witness stand. Anyone
can make a mistake.
Always Tell the Truth - Every court case is a search
for the truth, for what happened. As a witness you are under oath. You
are expected to tell the truth always, to the best of your knowledge.
The penalties for untruthful testimony are severe. As a witness you are
an essential part of the trial. It may be very inconvenient for you to
take time off and come to court and testify, but remember that the day
may come when you need someone to appear as a witness on your behalf, to
help you protect your rights under the law.
Your Responsibility - As with most things, the
system of justice is not perfect. But it is the best there is and every
citizen has a responsibility to make it work. When you serve as a
witness or a juror, you help make the system of justice work.