When You Testify
Please consider the following suggestions so that you will be most effective if you are called to testify. These suggestions apply to anyone who has to testify, not just CASAs. Since you are taking an oath, tell the truth and nothing but the truth. If a witness is halting, stumbling, hesitant, arrogant, or inaccurate, the jury may doubt the witness. The witness who is confident and straightforward will enable the jury to have faith in what is being said.
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- Be prepared. Don't try to memorize what you are going to say, but do try to refresh your mind on those matters upon which you will be examined. Try to recall the scene, the objects there, the distances, and exactly what happened. If the question is about distances or time, and if your answer is only an estimate, be sure you say it is only an estimate.
- Present a proper appearance. Dress neatly. Do not come into court or testify while chewing gum or smoking. When taking the oath, stand upright, pay attention, and say "I do" clearly. While testifying, avoid nervous mannerisms that distract the jury.
- Always face the person questioning you. Speak up clearly and loudly enough so that the farthest juror can easily hear you. Don't nod or shake your head for a "yes" or "no." Be serious in the courtroom and just as respectful in your answers to the defense counsel as to the prosecutor and the judge. Never argue with the defense attorney.
- Listen carefully to the questions asked of you. No matter how nice the attorney may seem on cross-examination, they may be trying to discredit you. Understand the question, have it repeated if necessary, then give a thoughtful, considered answer. Do not give a snap answer without thinking. Don't rush into answering, but neither should there be an unnaturally long delay to a simple question if you know the answer.
- Explain your answer, if necessary. Give the answer in your own words, and if a question can't be truthfully answered with "yes" or "no," you have the right to explain your answer.
- Answer only the question asked you. Do not volunteer information. If your answer was not correctly stated, correct or clarify it immediately.
- Don't say, "that's all of the conversation" or "nothing else happened." Instead say, "that's all I recall" or "that's all I remember happening." It may be that after more thought or another question, you may remember something important.
- Don't get angry. Keep calm. Be courteous, even if the attorney questioning you may appear discourteous. Don't appear to be a cocky witness. Any attorney who can make a witness angry will probably cause the witness to exaggerate, appear not objective, and emotionally unstable.
- Give positive, definite answers when at all possible. Every material truth should be readily admitted, even if not to the advantage of the prosecution. Do not stop to figure out whether your answer will help or hurt your side. Just answer the questions to the best of your memory without exaggerations. If asked about little details which a person naturally would not remember, it is best just to say so if you don't remember.
- If you don't want to answer a question, do not ask the judge whether you must answer it. If the question is improper, the district attorney will object. Don't look at the district attorney or at the judge for help in answering a question. You are on your own.
- Sometimes a defense attorney may ask you, "have you talked to anybody about this case?" If you say "no," the judge or jury knows that probably is not true because the prosecutor talks to the witness in advance of trial. So answer frankly that you have talked with the attorneys, your family, other witnesses, or whomever.
- Finally, be your self. If you try to imagine that you are talking to friends or neighbors on the jury, you will be more convincing and will do a fine job.