How to be an Effective Witness
Marquette County Prosecutor's Office
234 West Baraga Avenue
Marquette, Michigan 49855
How to be an Effective Witness
Since most witnesses are unfamiliar with court surroundings and have certain fears or misconceptions about testifying, here is some information that might help you.
Keep in mind that the purpose of this information is to help you testify more clearly and accurately, and be more easily understood by the judge and jury. As a witness, you have an important job to do for the American system of justice. For a jury or a judge to make a wise decision, all of the evidence must be presented in a truthful manner.
You already know that you take an oath in court to tell nothing but the truth. WE WANT YOU TO TELL THE TRUTH, THE WHOLE TRUTH AND NOTHING BUT THE TRUTH. The manner in which you testify, however, will affect the judge and jury's perception of your truthfulness. If you are halting, stumbling, hesitant, arrogant, or inaccurate, the judge and the jury may doubt that you are telling all the facts in a truthful way. The witness who is confident and straightforward will make the court and the jury have more faith in what he or she is saying.
Suggestions on How to be an Effective Witness
1. You are sworn to tell the truth. Tell it. Every material truth should be readily admitted, even if not to the advantage of the prosecution. Honesty is the best policy. Do not stop to figure out whether the answer will help or hurt your side; just answer the questions to the best of your memory. Do not exaggerate. If you tell the truth, and tell it accurately, nobody can cross you up.
2. A neat appearance and proper dress in court are important.
3. Avoid distracting mannerisms. Don't chew gum, and keep your hands away from your mouth. You can't speak distinctly while chewing gum or with your hand over your mouth.
4. Don't try to memorize what you are going to say. Prior to trial, however, do try to go over in your own mind those matters upon which you will testify. If you have testified in the same case before and a transcript is available, read over your earlier testimony. If you wrote or gave a statement to police, read that over as well.
5. Be serious in the courtroom. Avoid laughing and talking about the case in the presence of the jury or anywhere in the courthouse where you may be observed.
6. Speak clearly and loudly enough so that the farthest juror can hear you easily.
7. Listen carefully to the questions asked of you. Take your time; give the question as much thought as you require to understand it, formulate your answer, and then give the answer. No matter how nice the attorney may seem on cross-examination, he or she may be trying to discredit you. Be sure to understand the question, have it repeated if necessary, then give a thoughtful, considered answer.
8. Don’t be afraid to look the jury in the eye and tell the story. Jurors are naturally sympathetic to the witness and want to hear what he or she has to say. If you remember that you are just talking to some neighbors on the jury, you will get along just fine.
9. Always be courteous, even if the lawyer questioning you may appear discourteous. Don't be a cocky witness. This will lose you the respect of the judge and the jury. Any lawyer who can make a witness mad will probably cause the witness to exaggerate, appear unobjective, and emotionally unstable. Be sure to answer "Yes Sir/Ma'am" and "No Sir/Ma’am" and to address the judge as "Your Honor. "
10. Above all this is most important, do not lose your temper. Remember that some attorneys on cross-examination will try to wear you out so you will lose your temper and say things that are not correct or that will hurt you or your testimony. Keep your "cool."
11. Never argue with the defense attorney.
12. Try not to seem nervous. Give a positive answer when you can. Avoid mannerisms which will make the judge or jury think that you are scared, or not telling the truth or all that you know.
13. Do not nod your head for a "yes" or "no" answer. Speak so the court reporter can hear the answer.
14. Before you testify, try to picture the scene, the objects there, the distances and just what happened so you can recall more accurately when you are asked. If the question is about distances or time and if your answer is only an estimate, be sure to say it is only an estimate.
15. Answer only the question you are asked. Do not volunteer information that is not asked. Don't guess, and if you don't know, say you don't know. If you don't remember, say you don't remember.
16. If your answer was not correctly stated, correct it immediately. If your answer was not clear, clarify it immediately.
17. Explain your answer, if necessary. Give the answer in your own words, and if a question can't be truthfully answered with a "yes" or "no", you have a right to explain the answer.
18. The judge and the jury are interested only in the facts. Therefore, don't give your conclusions and opinions unless specifically asked.
19. Unless certain, don't say, "That's all of the conversations' 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 will remember something important.
20. If you don't want to answer a question, don’t ask the judge whether you must answer it. If it is an improper question, the prosecutor trying the case will take it up with the judge. Don't ask the judge for advice.
21. When being questioned by defense counsel, don’t look at the prosecutor or at the judge for help in answering a question. If the question is improper, the prosecutor will object. If a question is asked and there is no objection, answer it. Never substitute your ideas of what you believe the rules or evidence are.
22. Stop instantly when the judge interrupts you, or when an attorney objects to a question.
23. When coming from the witness stand after testifying, wear a confident expression, but do not smile or appear downcast.
24. Occasionally, a defense attorney will ask you if you have talked to anybody about this case. If you say, "No," the judge or jury knows that isn't right because good prosecutors try to talk to a witness before he or she takes the stand. If you say, "Yes," the defense lawyer may try to imply that you have been told what to say. The best thing to do is to say very frankly that you have talked with whomever you have talked prosecutor, victim, other witnesses, relatives, and that you were just asked what the facts were. All we want to do is to tell the truth as clearly as possible.
25. Now, go back and re-read these suggestions so that you will have them firmly in your mind. We hope that they will help. These are not to be memorized. Again, if you remember that you are just talking to some neighbors on the jury, you will get along fine.
If you have any questions after reading this call Cindy L. Boyer Victim/Witness Coordinator 906/228-1646 or firstname.lastname@example.org