Guide to Witness Testimony
- Tell the truth.
- Listen carefully to the entire question before answering. If you do not understand, ask that the question be explained or clarified.
- If you don’t know the answer to a question, it’s perfectly acceptable to say, “I don’t remember”. Don’t guess at an answer.
- If you hear one of the attorneys say the word “Objection”, it means that he doesn’t want you to answer the question. Please stop talking for a moment and let the judge decide whether or not the question should be answered. If you are unsure of whether to answer, look to the judge, and s/he will instruct you.
- Answer only the question that is asked. Do not volunteer information, ramble or stray from the question that is asked. If a question can be answered with a yes or no, then do so. If you are unable to answer with a yes or no, you have a right to explain your answer in more depth.
- Try to be as descriptive as possible. Think of it as relaying the story of a movie that no one has ever seen before. Take us there visually. Let the judge and lawyers know what things looked like and felt like.
- If your answer was not clear, clarify it. If your answer was wrong, correct it immediately.
- Beware of questions involving distances or time. If you estimate, make sure that you state that your answer is only an estimate.
- Speak clearly and loudly. The entire jury and the court reporter must be able to hear and understand you. Use your words; do not answer questions with head nods and other gestures.
- Do not become upset with or verbally fight with the defense attorney or judge. Remain calm and considerate and answer all questions truthfully.
- If asked if you have talked to anybody about this case, admit that you have. There is nothing improper about discussing the facts of the case with attorneys, police officers, or other investigators prior to trial.
- If you believe that you have information that the prosecutor may not be aware of, make certain that you inform the prosecutor immediately. If you recall a misstatement, point it out to the prosecutor so that it can be corrected.
- Do not discuss your testimony with any of the other witnesses. In some trials, the judge orders a “sequestration order”. This means that witnesses may not hear other witnesses’ testimony, or discuss the case amongst them.
- Be serious and respectful all the time. Avoid laughing and talking about the case in the halls, restrooms, or any place in or around the courthouse. Otherwise, jurors, defense council, or other witnesses may observe or overhear what you say.
- Look the judge in the eye when you take the oath. Speak loudly and clearly when saying, “I do”.
- Use your own words. Do not attempt to repeat technical or legal words you are not comfortable with. Do not exaggerate. Be Yourself!
- While testifying at a trial, talk to the jury. Look at the jury. Speak openly and frankly as you would to any friend or neighbor. Speak clearly and loudly so that the farthest juror can hear you.
- If you come into contact with the defendant or his/her family, do not make eye contact; do not talk to them. Do not engage them in any way if they try to harass you. If this should happen, notify law enforcement or the bailiff immediately. They are always present in the courtroom.
- Dress appropriately. No sandals, shorts, tank tops, heavy makeup, or excessive jewelry. Dress with respect for the court.
- Dispose of all gum or candy before taking the stand.
- Try to relax and take deep breaths.
If you have any questions about testifying or would like to visit a courtroom prior to your hearing date, call your victim witness advocate.