26 Tips Advice to Witnesses
General Admonition: Most of the Following Suggestions Are Things You May Have Already Thought About. Don’t Be Offended by Them. What You Have to Say Is Important, but the Way You Say it and the Way You Present Yourself Have a Lot to Do with Whether You Will Be Believed by the Jury. Paying Attention to Your Appearance and Presentation Style Can Make a Difference. Expect to Be Questioned by Lawyers for Both Sides.
Please Read These Suggestions Several Times Before the Trial. Don’t Worry about Trying to Memorize Them . Just Try to Understand the Gist of Them Before You Take the Stand to Testify.
- About Your Appearance, Dress like You Would for Church or as If You Were Going to Be Interviewed for a Job You Wanted. A Nice Dress for Ladies and a Sport Coat and Tie for Men Will Help Establish a Positive Image. Men Should Get a Haircut. Be Sure to Shave the Morning of the Trial. Women Should Not Wear Too Much Makeup. You Don’t Want to Look Flashy or Tough. A Soft, Natural Look Is Best. Don’t Chew Gum, Candy, or Tobacco. Remember, the Prosecutor Wants You to Dress like a Criminal or a Crook or a Gangster. The Prosecution Wants You to Look to the Jury like What They Are Trying to Prove You Are. The Prosecutor Wants You to Be Dressed in a Way That None of the Jurors Dress, So They Won’t Identify with You. If You Want to Help the Prosecutor Convict You, Ignore My Advice and Dress Any Way You Want. If You Want to Help Me Help You, Don’t Dress like a Criminal, Crook or Gangster.
- Tell it like it Is. Always Tell the Truth. Don’t Exaggerate. You Will Not Help Anyone by Lying or Stretching the Truth, and You Will Probably Be Caught If You Try to Lie or Bend the Truth.
- Listen Carefully to Each Question. Don’t Read Anything More into it than it Asks. Sit up Straight. Look at the Lawyer. Take Time to Think about Your Answer. Don’t Allow Yourself to Be Rushed into Answering. Speak Clearly. Keep Your Hands Away from Your Mouth. Keep Your Head Up. Be Straight and Precise with Your Answer. Once You’ve Said Something, it Can’t Be Erased. Of Course, If It’s a Simple Question That Can Be Answered Quickly, Don’t Think about it Too Much. Otherwise, it Will Look like You Are Trying to Avoid or Evade Answering. Also, You May Be Asked the Same Question Twice by the Cross‑examiner, Just in Different Words. Try to Be Consistent in Your Answers.
- Wait until You Have Heard the Entire Question Before Thinking of Your Answer. Then Answer Only the Question You Were Asked. If the Question Calls for a “Yes” or “No” Answer, Answer it with a ‘Yes” or “No.” Don’t Volunteer Information That Is Not Being Asked For. If You Don’t Hear the Question , Have it Repeated. Don’t Answer Unless You Know What Question You’ve Been Asked. Always Speak Your Answer. Don’t Shake or Nod Your Head.
- Don’t Be Afraid to Say, “I Don’t Know the Answer to That Queston” or “I Don’t Remember Exactly ‑‑‑ it All Happened a Long Time Ago.” Be Clear in Saying What You Know and What You Are Estimating. Don’t Guess. You Aren’t Expected to Know Everything. If You Don’t Remember Something, Just Say So. It’s Perfectly Natural to Forget Minor Details. Don’t Make Things up or Guess. On the Other Hand, Be Careful of Making Absolute Statements like “Nothing Else Happened,” Unless You Are 100% Sure That the Absolute Statement Is True.
- If You Get Asked about Time or Distances, and You Aren’t Exactly Sure, Tell the Attorney That You Aren’t Sure of the Exact Time or Distance. Tell the Attorney That You Can Give the Approximate Time or Distance. For Example, in this Situation You Might Say, “I Don’t Know Exactly What the Time Was but it Was Between 8:30 and 9:00 at Night” or “I Don’t Know the Exact Distance, but it Was Approximately 20 to 25 Feet.”
- Do Not Become Angry or Frustrated. Just Answer the Questions. Cross‑examination Is Part of Every Trial. It’s Usually Not a Personal Attack, Even Though it May Seem That Way to You. The Lawyer for the Other Side May Try to Score Points with the Jury by Baiting You into Losing Your Temper. The Lawyer for the Other Side Is Just Doing His Job. If the Other Lawyer Tries to Make You Angry, Don’t Go for the Bait. Stay Cool and Be Polite. The Idea Is to Be on Your Best Behavior
- It’s Awkward to Look at the Jury the Whole Time You Are Testifying. Generally You Will Look at the Lawyer Asking the Questions. But Don’t Hesitate to Look at the Jury When Answering an Important Question or When You Hear Me Say “Tell the Jury” Thus and So. Also, If I Look at the Jury When I Am Asking You a Question or When I Finish a Question, You Should Look at the Jury When Answering the Question. When You Look at the Jurors, Look at Individual Jurors, Not Just at the Group as a Whole. You Won’t Be Able to Look at Each of the Jurors During a Single Answer. When You Do Look at a Juror, Look the Juror in the Eye. Looking a Juror in the Eye Doesn’t Mean Looking at His/her Forehead or at the Wall Behind the Juror. It Means Looking at the Juror’s Eyes for at Least a Three Count. Don’t Stare at Any Particular Juror and Don’t Do a Quick Scan. Just Move Your Eyes from Juror to Juror, Making Polite Eye‑to‑eye Contact as You Answer the Question. If a Juror Avoids Making Eye Contact with You, Don’t Try to Force the Juror to Look at You. Simply Look at Another Juror, and Establish Eye Contact with Him/her.
- If You Make a Mistake in Your Testimony, Correct it as Soon as Possible. If You Feel an Overwhelming Need to Explain or Clarify Your Answer, Ask the Judge, “May I Please Explain My Answer, Your Honor?”
- You Are Only Supposed to Testify about What You Know of Your Own Personal Knowledge. Think about How You Found out That Something Happened. Did You See it Happen? Did Someone Tellyou it Happened? Was it Rumor? If You Don’t Know it of Your Own Personal Knowledge, Make Sure You Don’t Testify as Though You Do.
- Don’t Answer Just “Yes” or “No” Unless You Agree Completely or Disagree Completely.
- Don’t Just Buy into the Words of the Lawyer. If the Words Are Not Exactly Right and Make You Uncomfortable, Use Your Own Words. The Other Lawyer Will Try to Rattle You by Being Rude or Hostile or Brusque or Abbrasive. Keep Your Cool. Be Courteous, Even If the Other Lawyer Is Not Courteous to You. Just Tick to the Truth and Be Polite. Our Rule in Court Is Always Be Cool. Never Get Mad or Angry, Unless It’s for a Good Purpose. If You Don’t Lose It, the Jury Will Look at You as Honest, Sincere, and Truthful
- If There Are Many Points in a Question, Have the Attorney Break it down to One Point at a Time or Just Answer One Point at a Time.
- Watch out for the Attorney Who Is Cross‑examining You and Trying Little by Little to Move Your Testimony over His Way. Don’t Let the Lawyer for the Other Side Shade the Truth. Keep it like it Really Was.
- Think Through What Happened Now So Your Testimony Will Be Accurate When You Testify. Try to Appear Interested in the Case While You Are Testifying. Don’t Slouch or Mumble or Make Faces or Play with Your Face or Hair. Keep You Hands off You Face. Act like You Care.
- Don’t Try to Memorize Your Testimony. If You Are Overprepared You Will Not Seem Sincere. Just Have a Clear Picture of the Things You Are Going to Describe. .
- Don’t Talk about the Case While You Are in the Courthouse, Except When You Are on the Witness Stand. The Folks on the Jury May See You at Any Time You Are in the Courthouse or the Vicinity. Be on Your Best Behavior. Don’t Do Anything That Might Make You Look Bad. Don’t Talk to Any of the Jurors or Other Witnesses If You See Them in the Hallways or in the Elevators or Any Other Public Place.you Can Certainly Smile at the Juror, but It’s Against the Rules of Court for You to Talk to Juror about Anything
- You Will Probably Be Asked If You Talked to Anybody about the Case. Don’t Hesitate to Admit That You Did. If the Other Lawyer Asks You If You Talked to Me, Tell Him Yes. If He Asks You Whether We Talked about Your Testimony, Tell Him That We Did. If the Other Lawyer Asks You What I Told You, Tell Him Honestly That I Told You to Tell the Truth, Which Is Exactly What I Want You to Do ‑ Tell the Truth.
- If You Have a Prior ( Felony or Moral Turpitude Misdemeanor) Conviction, the Other Lawyer Is Entitled to Ask You If You Have Been Convicted. If You Have Been Convicted of Such a Crime, Admit It. Be Honest in Admitting Your Prior Convictions.
- Try to Be Calm. Be Courteous to the Lawyers for Each Side and Respectful of the Judge. Don’t Argue with the Lawyers or the Judge. Don’t Interrupt the Lawyers or the Judge. Don’t Be Arrogant. Don’t Make Wisecracks or Try to Be Funny.
- If the Judge Interrupts You or If One of the Lawyers Makes and Objection, Stop Answering Immediately. Wait until the Judge Says That it Is Okay for You to Answer. If the Judge Doesn’t Say Anything or and You Don’t Know If You Are Supposed to Answer, Ask the Judge “Your Honor, Am I Supposed to Answer the Question?” If You Don’t Remember the Question after the Objection or Don’t Understand It, Ask the Lawyer to Repeat It.
- Before You Ever Come to Court, Think about What You Personally Know about the Facts of the Case. If Your Memory Is Hazy, Tell the Lawyer Who Is Going to Call You as a Witness. In Preparation for Your Testimony, You May Need to Review Any Written Witness Statement(s) That You May Have Made And/or Any Other Documents That the Lawyer Asks You to Look At. Don’t Hesitate to Ask to Look at Anything That Might Help Refresh Your Memory If There Is Anything in Your Written Statements or the Other Documents That Is Wrong or a Misstatement, Be Sure to Call it to the Lawyer’s Attention Before You Testify.
- You Will Want to Tell Everything You Know in Clear Understandable Language. Make Eye Contact with the Lawyer and the Jury. Don’t Look down at Your Feet and Mumble. The Court Reporter Has to Hear Your Answer. Don’t Answer with a Shake or Nod of Your Head. Speak Your Answer. Don’t Say “Yeah” or “Uh‑huh.” Say “Yes” or “Yes, Sir” or “Yes, Maam.”.Or “No” or “No, Sir” or “No, Maam.”
- Don’t Object to Answering a Question, Even If You Think it Is Improper. If It’s Not a Proper Question One of the Lawyers Will Object to It.
- Never Look at Me or the Judge for Help in Answering a Question. If You Look at Me Before Answering a Question, it Makes it Look like You Want to Be “Coached” to Give a Particular Answer.
- Don’t Try to Fill in Moments of Silence. If Things Go Silent During Questioning, Don’t Volunteer Information Simply to Fill the Quiet Time.
Follow These Suggestions. Think about Your Testimony Ahead of Time, and You Will Be a Good Witness