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#147 Serving as a witness

mp3 #147 What You Should Know About Being a Witness (mp3 file)


If you are called to be a witness in a trial, there are several things you should know. The most important thing is to remember that you are sworn to tell the truth. Even if the truth is not to the advantage of the person you’re testifying form then tell the truth anyway. Don’t try to stop and figure out if your answer is going to help or hurt one side or the other. Just answer the questions to the best of your memory.

Don’t memorize your story. Juries may not believe a witness whose story seems memorized or rehearsed. Again, just tell things the way you remember them. Don’t exaggerate. Stop instantly if the judge interrupts you, or if the other attorney objects. Don’t try to sneak in an answer.

Think carefully about the questions you’re asked. Listen carefully, the other attorney may be very polite as he cross-examines you, but his job is to question your testimony or your reliability as a witness. So make certain you understand what he asks before you answer. Have it repeated if you need to. Then give a truthful answer. Don’t permit yourself to be rushed into answering, but on the other hand, don’t take so long that seems as if you’re trying to make up an answer.

When you are being questioned, explain your answers if necessary. This is better than a simple "yes" or "no". You have a right to explain the answer. Answer simply and directly ONLY to the question asked, then stop. Don’t volunteer any information that isn’t asked. There are trick questions you may be asked. If you answer them the way the other attorney hopes you will, he can make your answer sound bad to the jury. "Have you talked to anybody about this case?" If you say "no", the jury knows you aren’t telling the truth because good lawyers always talk to a witness before going to court. If you say "yes", the lawyer may try to imply that you were told what to say. This is one of those questions that won’t take a simple "yes" or "no". The best thing is to tell the truth – that you’ve talked to the lawyer, the person involved in the suit, the police, or whoever – and that you were asked to tell what the facts of the case were.

Don’t lose your temper under cross-examination. Testifying for any length of time is tiring. You may begin to experience fatigue – feeling tired, cross, nervous, angry. You may start to give careless answers and feel yourself willing to say anything just to get off the witness stand. So, remember some attorneys will deliberately want you to become exhausted and angry so you’ll say things that are incorrect or that will hurt your testimony. If you feel any symptoms of fatigue, just recognize that they’re there and work at being as alert and attentive as possible.

Your appearance and the way you act in court are important. The judge will tell the jury (and will follow this advice himself) that they can judge your honesty based on your actions and attitude while you testify. You are expected to show respect for the court and for the legal process you’re participating in. Wear clean clothes and dress conservatively. Don’t chew gum. Stand up straight while you take the oath. Pay attention and say "I do" clearly. Sit up straight in the witness chair, and always speak loudly enough so that everyone in the room can hear you.

Be serious about what you’re doing and don’t joke or talk about the case anywhere in the courthouse. Look at the members of the jury when you talk and try to speak to them just as you would to any friend or neighbor.

Remember to keep calm and tell the truth to the best of your ability. Be as open and serious as you can about what you’re doing.

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