Preparing To Be An Effective Witness | Criminal Defence Articles by Tushar K. Pain

When you testify in court you are giving evidence. The trial judge is trying to determine whether all, some, or none of what you say should be accepted. What you say, how you say it, and how you present yourself are all important factors in making this determination. In short, everything matters in the presentation of your evidence.

When you arrive in court, you may be asked to wait outside of the courtroom until it is your turn to give testimony. This is because there may be an order excluding witnesses from the courtroom so that a witness’ evidence is not influenced by what is said in the courtroom. If such an order is made, you must wait outside the courtroom and you must not leave.

When you are called into the courtroom, you will be asked to proceed to the witness box. You will then be sworn in. Following this, you will be questioned by each of the lawyers – first, by the lawyer who has called you as a witness and then, by the opposing lawyer.

The lawyer that has called you as a witness will generally be asking the court to rely upon your evidence. He or she will generally try to show that your evidence is credible, accurate, and reliable. This lawyer will take a friendlier approach with you.

The opposing lawyer will generally try to discount or undermine your evidence. He or she might try to show that you are untrustworthy, inaccurate, or unreliable. This lawyer’s approach will typically be less friendly and confrontational.

While preparing to testify in court, keep the following in mind:

1. Dress appropriately – Your safest bet will be conservative business attire.
2. Be on time and show up to the right place – no excuses.
3. Sit up straight and do not chew gum while you’re testifying.
4. Listen carefully to the question asked and answer that question only. Do not ramble on.
5. Do not try to guess at where you think the lawyer is going with the question – just answer the question.
6. If you didn’t hear the question, then ask that it be repeated.
7. If you didn’t understand the question, then say that you didn’t understand the question – do not guess at the meaning and try to answer. This can be fatal to your evidence.
8. If you don’t know or cannot remember the answer to a question, simply state that you do not know or cannot remember – do not guess.
9. If you have made a mistake in your testimony, correct it as soon as you realize your error.
10. Speak clearly, loudly, and not too fast. Do not speak over another person or answer questions with gestures such as head nods. This is because the court reporter must record all testimony.
11. Do not keep speaking simply to fill an uncomfortable silence. Once you have answered the question, then stop and wait for the next one.
12. Always remain polite and respectful. Hostility, rudeness, and belligerence will only reflect poorly upon you.
13. Do not refuse to answer a question or even ask if you have to answer a question. If a question is inappropriate then the other lawyer or the judge will intervene.
14. During cross-examination, do not look to your lawyer to rescue you. In most instances, there is nothing that your lawyer can do and you must answer the question being posed.
15. When testifying, it is permissible to talk of things you observed first-hand. It is generally not okay to testify about what someone else has told you (eg. “Jim told me that he saw Bob slap his wife.”). This type of evidence is considered hearsay and is generally not permissible.
16. Relax and stick to the truth.

Testifying in court can be a nerve-wracking experience. Understanding the environment and preparing for the experience can help you to become an effective witness.