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What to Do if You are Called as a Witness

Many of these suggestions are common sense and/or common courtesy. It may help potential court witnesses to have some specific expectations spelled out. Much of this material has been adapted from materials developed by the Kalamazoo [Michigan] Law Library.

Testify in courtroomDO the following:

Tell the Truth—A lie may lose the case, and is a crime for which you can be prosecuted. Telling the truth requires that a witness testify accurately about what he/she knows. If you tell the truth accurately, nobody can cross you up.

Speak clearly. Talk loudly enough so everybody can hear you. Give an audible answer so the court reporter hears you. Be as specific as you can, and as precise as possible.

Be Courteous—Answer “Yes, sir” and “No, sir” and to address the judge as “Your Honor.” Let the lawyer make his objection before answering.
Know your name, where you live, how old you are and when you were married, etc. These details may be asked of you as a method of identifying you.

Understand the question before you attempt to give an answer - If you don’t understand the question, ask the lawyer to repeat it. Allow the lawyer to finish the question before you begin your answer. Do not let the lawyer cut off your answer by beginning the next question before you have completed your answer.

Take Your Time—Give the question such thought as it requires to understand it.
Answer the question that is asked and then STOP. Don’t volunteer information.
Give a positive answer when you can. If you were there and know what happened or didn’t happen, don’t be afraid to “swear” to it.
Answer “yes” or “no,” then say “yes” or “no.”
Beware of the questions involving distances and time. If you make an estimate make sure that everyone understands that you are estimating
If asked whether you have talked to your lawyer or to an investigator, admit it freely, if you have done so. If not, say “NO” and nothing more.
Look the jury in the eye and tell the story. Jurors are naturally sympathetic to the witness and want to hear what he or she has to say.

DO NOT do the following, while you are testifying:
Do not chew gum.
Do not make jokes, or offer amusing side comments or wise cracks.
Do not volunteer information.
Do not guess. If you don’t know, say you don’t know. If you make an estimate make sure that everyone understands that you are estimating.
Do not repeatedly answer “I don’t remember” or “I don’t recall”
Do not look at the lawyer for help when you’re on the stand. You’re on your own.
Do not expect “help” from the Judge.
Do not lose your temper. All the regular players involved understand that a witness may be nervous. To the degree possible, keep all emotion out of your answers.
Do not argue with the lawyer on the other side. He has a right to question you. If you are not sure of the question he may be asking, ASK for clarification.
Do not use figures of speech (e.g. “her eyes were like emeralds” or “a straight road” is not a “straight shot.”)

NOTE: The above information is not intended to be a substitute for legal advice or representation. Consult an attorney if you have questions about how this information relates to your specific situation or circumstance.


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