Written by attorney Lani Jeanne Sockle

Tips for Trial Witness Testimony

* Meet with the trial attorney in advance of your testimony. * Get a good understanding of the purpose of your testimony. * Review any statements, reports, or other documents you may have to refresh your memory several days before your testimony. * Make a list of important points you want to include in your testimony. [You should review this list with the attorney.] Review the list a few times, and again just before your testimony. * Try to tell short stories as an example of the point(s) you are making in your testimony. [Example: "John and I used to hike together every weekend. The weekend before the wreck we had hiked a three mile trail at Mt Ranier. It was really hot and really steep, but John practically ran up the trail. We had a great time. Now he can't hike at all."] * Let the attorney know ( or give them copies) if you have photographs, video, newspaper articles, funeral memorials, etc. that may be of help in proving the case or backing up your testimony. Do this before your trial testimony. * Take your trial appearance seriously. Dress appropriately and arrive on time, or a few minutes early. Appropriate dress is something that you would wear to church or to an important job interview. [It is not appropriate to wear dirty or wrinkled clothes, very short skirts, low cut tops, jeans, sweats, work-out clothes, hats, or clothing with logos or messages.] * Expect that you will not be allowed into the courtroom until it is time for your testimony. After you complete your testimony most judges will allow you to stay in the courtroom, if you wish. Before your testimony, you should wait just outside the courtroom in a place where you can be easily found when it is time for you to testify. * Be respectful of the court, the judge, and the jury. Behaving in a respectful way and showing courtesy to others will improve your credibility with the jury and everyone involved. * Listen carefully to each question that is asked. If you do not hear the question, or if you do not understand the question, ask the attorney to please repeat or restate the question. * Be honest. If you are worried about some aspect of your testimony, talk to the attorney ahead of time and figure out together how to deal with it. * Do not volunteer information. Listen carefully to the question asked, and answer only that question. Volunteered information will frequently do more harm than good. * The attorney that called you to testify will want you to provide a detailed answer when they question you. However, it is usually better if you limit your answers to questions asked by the opposing attorney. Be truthful but concise. * On "direct examination" (the attorney calling you to testify is questioning you), you will be asked very open questions that will allow you to give a lot of detail and explain your answers. * On "cross examination" (the opposing attorney is asking follow up questions), you will be asked more closed questions. That may mean that your answers will be more limited or you will expected to answer with just yes or no. * Look at and speak to the jury. You are telling your story to the jury. If you look at them and speak directly to them, they will put more trust in what you say. * The court may put some restrictions on what you can talk about. Based on legal issues involved in the case, the judge will sometimes decide that there are certain things that cannot be mentioned in front of the jury. Check with the attorney about restrictions on your testimony and then follow the rule. * Tell the attorney if you need a formal subpoena to give to your employer to get time off work to testify. The court will pay a small stipend or witness fee for you to testify at trial. [Usually about $10 plus milage.] * Be sure that the attorney calling you to testify has the best telephone number to call you if there any last-minute changes in your testimony time. Trial schedules almost always change. * Be punctual and reliable. If you have been scheduled to testify, the attorney is counting on you to be there. You must have something important to say or you would not have been scheduled to testify. Being late or forgetting about your testimony is not acceptable. There are no do-overs at trial. * If you are really nervous about the idea of going into the court room, go to the court and check it out sometime before your testimony. Courthouses are public buildings. You may even get to see a trial in action. It will not be as intimidating as you think. * Remember that real life court is less exciting and much slower than what you see on TV. * Expect to have to go through a metal detector and security check as you enter the courthouse. Leave questionable items at home or in your car. Food and beverages are not allowed in the courtroom. * Do not bring your kids to court with you. Court rooms are an adult environment and in most situations, they are not appropriate for children. Find child care so you can focus on your testimony. * Give yourself a pat on the back for being willing to be a witness. It is a very important part of our justice system. Do not underestimate the value of your observations and what you have to share with the jury.

Additional resources provided by the author

To get more information on this topic, speak to the attorney who is calling you to testify, contact an attorney personally if you believe your conduct is in question, contact your local Bar Association or local trial lawyers' associations for additional tips. Rules regarding witness testimony at trial is controlled by the court rules and the court rules of evidence of the specific court in which the case is filed.

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