How To Prepare To Testify In A Criminal Trial

Whether you are just a witness or an actual participant in a criminal trial, the thought of testifying can often cause people to become nervous or unsure of themselves. Learning about the basics about how to succeed can make the occasion go more smoothly. Here are a few suggestions from a defence lawyer and former prosecutor.

Review Any Prior Statement

It is common for many months or even years to pass before someone testifies in criminal court. If this is the case, you should ask the attorneys involved to allow you to review any prior written statement or any transcript of any prior interview or deposition you have done.  This will assure the incident is fresh in your mind.  You may want to read the statement more than once. It is common for attorneys to ask witnesses about their statements and what they might have meant by certain statements. Your testimony is not limited by what you have written previously, but if you recall other important details months later, you should be prepared to answer why those details might not have been included in your prior statement. Witnesses sometimes wish to bring notes with them to court, but keep in mind that it may be that one of the lawyers or the judge will want to review any written material that you bring to court.

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Know Who Will Be Present In Court

It is important to know if the trial is going to be held before a judge or if it is a jury trial. If the matter is tried before a judge, you will generally want to make eye contact with the judge from time to time while testifying. However, if a jury is deciding the case, you want to make eye contact with the jury. It is natural to look at the lawyer who is asking the question but he or she would likely already know what you are about to say. Remember that courtrooms are typically open to the public. It is not uncommon for participants’ family members to be present. If a case is of public interest, there may even be a reporter present in the court. In some jurisdictions, reporters are allowed to take photographs in court. If your case is high-profile, you may want to ask the court about the rules for the media prior to the date of your testimony.

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Know The Court Rules

Every court has different rules.  If you have any questions, you may ask one of the lawyers or the bailiff. It is common for judges to prohibit witnesses from entering the courtroom until they are called to testify. It is also common for judges to prohibit witnesses from speaking to other witnesses about what is occurring in the courtroom. When you are on the stand be prepared for brief pauses in the testimony if objections are made. If an objection is made, it is best to stop and wait for the judge to rule on the objection before continuing with your answer. It is also a good idea to check in with the court clerk prior to testifying. It is common for there to be reimbursement for vehicle mileage or reimbursement for lodging. The clerk can also inform you of the rules for bringing water or coffee with you, or the rules for attire, or the rules for phones in the courtroom. Lastly, witnesses need to be truthful while testifying even if the testimony might cause embarrassment for themselves or others. If you have questions about your rights in a case, it is best to reach out to a local lawyer who is licensed in your jurisdiction.

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