Tell the truth.
It is the duty of a witness to tell the truth, whether or not
it is advantageous to the prosecutor's case.
Listen carefully to the question
Don't make decisions about what the question is asking before
the attorney finishes asking it. You may be mistaken about what the question is
really asking. This may leave you looking like you are subsequently changing
your answer and subject you to trying to explain your inappropriate answer for
the next several minutes.
Do not volunteer information
that you are not asked to give.
Witnesses frequently start volunteering information because
they are trying to tell the entire story as they know it. Try to remember that
testifying is not like the type of conversations we have in normal, every-day
life. Testifying is a process of being asked a question on a specific topic and
giving an answer to that question. The attorney will have a strategy regarding
the information that they are trying to get out and at what point in the
questioning they want the information given. This strategy usually involves
considerations of keeping the case simple and the timing of bringing in certain
testimony. You may be highly destructive to this strategy if you are more
interested in telling everything you want to get out, rather than answering the
questions the lawyer is asking.
Witnesses that constantly volunteer information they are not
asked to provide frequently come across as biased for one side. If you volunteer
a lot of information that you are not asked, you may come across as unbelievable
or fabricating facts to help "your" side.
In addition, the rules governing the admission of evidence may
prohibit the jury from hearing the type of information you want to volunteer.
This problem creates a high likelihood of having the opposing attorney object to
the volunteered testimony. This can result in a prolonged discussion between the
court and the lawyers which will, in turn, cause the jury to forget the
important information you were asked to testify about. It may also hurt the
jury's opinion of you since the judge will end up warning you to only answer the
Do not guess.
Guessing is an open invitation to an attorney to bend your
testimony and your credibility into a pretzel. You may only testify about facts
of which you have personal knowledge. If the attorney can point out to the jury
that you were guessing about even one fact, the jury may believe that you did
not really witness the other things you testified about with the same degree of
believability they did before the answer in which you guessed. If you recognize
that the attorney is asking you to guess at an answer, say that you don't know,
that you would have to guess. The jury will understand and respect this answer.
Do not be afraid of correcting a mistake.
If you realize you made a mistake in your testimony, say so. If
you change your testimony, one or both of the attorneys are going to ask you why
you are changing your answer. That is your opportunity to explain the mistake.
Pointing problems out when you realize a mistake has been made is less severe in
the jury's mind than a mistake that is obviously not the truth, which is left
This is much like volunteering information. However, people
that do this tend to be nervous and want to chit chat about different things to
make the questioning more casual. The best thing to do if you think you are
rambling is to focus on the lawyer asking the questions during the pause between
questions. Let the jury ponder the answer you just gave rather than get lost in
the unimportant rambling that come between your last answer the next question.
Remember to be dignified at all times.
Keep your composure, regardless of how frustrating or
infuriating the questions are or the questioning attorney acts. You will lose
credibility with the jury if you lower yourself to becoming verbally combative
or confrontational with the lawyer. Remember, the jury sees and hears what is
going on. They know when the question is offensive, unreasonable, or dumb, or
when the attorney is being unfair to a witness. Disruptive or combative behavior
from the witness does not earn points with the jury.
When the attorney makes an objection, quit talking. Even if it
is in the middle of a sentence. Let the lawyers and the judge work out the
problem. You will then be instructed to answer the question or not to answer the
question. If you have forgotten the question, let the judge know that you have
forgotten the question and ask if it can be repeated. The judge will always
comply with your request.
Ask for a Break.
If you need a break ask for one. Chances are, someone else
needs one too.
If you don't know the answer to the question, say so.
When a witness doesn't know the answer to a question or cannot
remember the answer, they should say so. Do not guess. Do not testify to facts
to which you are not sure.
If you don't understand the
question, ask for a clarification.
If you don't understand the question, you are guessing at what
the attorney wants. If you don't understand the question and provide an answer
anyway, you are guessing about what answer to give. As discussed above, your
chances of giving a fool-proof answer disappears, sometimes entirely, if you
guess about what the question is supposed to be asking. Solve this problem by
telling the lawyer you don't understand the question. They will ask it again.
Chances are, the jury didn't understand the question either and they appreciate
you doing them the favor of bringing the problem out.