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How Witness Testimony Works

While most of us have seen witnesses testify on television, many witnesses find the actual experience to be much different in person. This experience can often be intimidating, especially if you don’t know what to expect. It can help to know how witness testimony works in order to confidently play the role of a witness in court.

As a witness, you are there to provide the facts of the case according to what you know, nothing more and nothing less. That means that you are responsible for telling your story to the judge and jury, not for making an entire convincing case. When you are called as a witness, you will be expected to show up to court at a certain time and wait patiently until called by the lawyers. Once called to the stand, you will need to swear to give a true testimony and then you will answer the lawyer’s questions. Often this will take some time.

You then will be cross-examined by the other attorney. Sometimes they will have many questions for you. Other times there will be just a few. Depending on the case you may be called again later or asked more questions by the lawyer who called you. This process can be tiring for many people, but stay calm. You are not on trial. You are simply answering the questions truthfully. In order to make this process easier, lawyers will prep you before the trial starts so you are prepared for the questions asked, which will make giving your testimony easier.

Tips for Testifying as a Witness in Court

Since being a witness can be a stressful experience, it helps to go in knowing what to expect. These ten tips for testifying as a witness will help you feel even more comfortable on the witness stand.

  1. Always tell the truth. It may be tempting to try and spin your information to sound better, especially when something reflects less than ideally on you or someone you care about, but you have sworn to tell the truth. Not only is a lie illegal, but it can also actually lead to all your truthful testimony being ignored by the judge and jury.

  2. Make a good impression. This means that you should dress modestly and appropriately for court, sit up, and look like you are paying attention to the lawyer when he or she is speaking. It may not be fair, but the jury judges your trustworthiness based on all these factors.

  3. Practice before heading to court. You probably will do this with an attorney. While you shouldn’t memorize your story or try too hard to make it perfect, it will often help you to be less nervous if you practice answering some of the questions before getting in front of the court.

  4. Speak naturally and in your own words. Often witnesses feel like they have to use formal language, big words and police or legal jargon on the stand to be believed, but unless you are an expert, it’s better to just speak naturally. Say what you witnessed in your own words, and don’t worry so much about making it perfect, so long as it’s the truth.

  5. Don’t discuss the case outside of the courtroom while the trial is in progress. This is important to your credibility as a witness. You need to be responsible as a witness on the case.

  6. Don’t get angry on the stand or take questions too personally. Often opposing counsel will try to undermine your credibility, because you are hurting their case. This leads to accusatory, personal, or even offensive questions. Try to stay calm and ignore this tone. Their questions, while perhaps rude, are not personal attacks. Responding angrily will only hurt you more.

  7. Think before answering the question. It’s ok if you need a second to collect your thoughts. You are allowed to pause and consider what answer best gives a truthful answer to any question. Also, make sure that you have heard the entire question before starting to answer.

  8. Remember that it’s ok not to know all the answers. If you are not sure the answer to a question, simply say so. You can’t be expected to know everything. It’s better to admit you are not sure about something than to say something that could turn out to be inaccurate.

  9. Give confident answers when you have them. If you know something, own it. You don’t have to qualify all your statements with “I think” or “I believe.” If you think your answer is true, say it.

  10. Don’t be afraid; you’ll do fine. Often nerves make being a witness worse than it has to be. You should stay calm and remember that you are not on trial, nor are you responsible for making a winning case. All you have to do is answer questions, honestly, calmly and clearly, and you will be an excellent witness.

If you are serving as a witness in Ohio, you have been chosen to speak to the court for a reason. You would not be asked to testify if the attorney who called you did not think you could do it. Follow these tips and relax. You will do a great job.

At Luftman, Heck & Associates, we know how intimidating the legal process can be. If someone you care about has been arrested, make sure they have all the support they need for a good outcome. Call us any time at (888) 726-3181 for a free consultation on your case.