Giving testimony as a witness is seen as one of the most nerve-wracking experiences in the legal realm. Too often after a witness receives a subpoena, they are given little (if any)guidance as to what is expected of them. However, giving testimony can be a positive experience when the witness has some preparation. A few tips can make a world of difference in the entire process:
- Relax. You aren’t in trouble.
Just because you are called to testify does not mean you’ve done anything wrong, or that you are being accused – it just means that the attorneys involved in the case believe you know something important and need you to tell the court what you know.
- Don’t be afraid to pick up the phone.
Your subpoena should have the phone number of the attorney who wants you to testify. If they don’t contact you, call them and ask them what they need. It will help get rid of the jitters when you know what’s expected.
- Yes, you have to go.
If you are served with a subpoena, you are required to testify. You can get in trouble if you just ignore the subpoena. However, if you have a conflict on the day you are called to testify, get in touch with the attorney who called you. They are usually willing to accommodate your schedule as much as they can and find a solution that is good for both of you.
- Tell the truth.
This is very important. Even if you think the truth is unhelpful, it is what you are there to provide – and you will get into trouble if you lie. If you’re concerned that you have done something wrong and may get yourself in hot water if you tell the truth, then you should go and talk to an attorney and get legal advice before you testify.
If the attorney that called you to testify gives you pointers, listen to them. While you are being questioned, listen to the question you are being asked and answer it exactly – try not to give more information than the questioner is seeking. A good rule of thumb is to answer only “yes” or “no” if that is all that is required, as it will help prevent you from getting nervous or flustered.
- “I don’t know” is okay.
You may be asked questions to which you don’t know or don’t remember the answer. Don’t try to force yourself to remember or invent an answer. It is 100% okay to say that you don’t know or don’t remember.
If you don’t understand a question, ask for it to be rephrased or repeated. If you need a bathroom break, ask the judge for a recess. The goal is to get to the truth, and not to make you uncomfortable or confused to do so.