No one wants to be involved in a heinous crime. It’s hard to be a defendant, especially if you did something illegal which you really did not mean to do. It’s even harder to be a victim of a crime because not only will you need to deal with the legal proceedings, but you also have to face all the emotional turmoil related to the incident that has made you or your family victims. If you’re a witness to a crime, you may also have to deal with certain things that, if given another way, you wouldn’t want to cope with. Many witnesses worry about how their status will affect their lives and their relationships, and many also fear for their lives. But being a witness is a legal responsibility. Once you’re subpoenaed to appear in court, you have to. If you don’t, you could go to jail for refusing to testify.
Sometimes, telling the truth in court is not enough. If you do the wrong thing that irks or annoys either the judge or jury, your testimony could lose relevance. Therefore, it’s a must for a witness to not only tell the truth, but convey this the proper way.
Preparing Before a Trial
You will most likely have zero experience when it comes to testifying in court. So, if you’re going to be a witness, try to check out other hearings to see how the legal process goes. This way, you’ll get an idea about how witnesses should act, talk, as well as dress in court. It is also helpful to ask a trusted friend or family member to go with you to court. This is understandable as appearing in court is very daunting to most people.
In preparing to take your stand in court, you should remember to be confident and respectful; and the information or details that you relay should also be correct and consistent. It is, therefore, essential to take notes. Try to remember everything about the incident in question. In case you signed a written statement at some point in an investigation, review this. Also, make sure that all investigators involved in the case are aware of your signed statement.
On the day that you’re scheduled to testify, bring your subpoena to court and be on time. This will allow you to make final inquiries about how the entire process works. You can ask the police investigators handling the case being tried in court. Also, remember that you can talk to either the defendant or the injured party. However, this is not included in your legal duty. In other words, you’re not required to discuss the case either with the defendant or the victim. You can report or seek assistance from a police investigator in case someone forces you to do so.
Taking the Stand
Once you are sworn in “to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth,” you should do so. Lying in court is a legal offense, and liars are charged with perjury or forswearing. This is a serious offense, often classified as a felony, where those proven guilty could spend about 5 years in jail. So, avoid giving false information in court. If you don’t know the answer or if you don’t remember the details being asked, then answer truthfully. It’s acceptable to say, “I don’t know,” or “I don’t remember.”
Claire Duvall blogs for several legal websites. She also writes for many renowned Massachusetts criminal attorneys, like Elliot Savitz, who is an expert in various types of criminal cases.