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Preparing To Testify


  • A neat and clean appearance is very important for court. You should be comfortable, yet appropriately dressed for court.
  • When you are called to testify, you will first be sworn in. When you get to the witness stand, face the clerk, stand up straight, pay attention to the clerk, and respond, "I do".
  • Most important of all, you are sworn to TELL THE TRUTH. Tell it. Every true fact should be readily admitted. Do not stop to figure out whether your answer will help or hurt either side. Just answer the questions to the best of your memory.
  • Listen carefully to the questions you are asked. Understand the question, have it repeated, if necessary, then give a thoughtful, considered answer.
  • Answer only the question asked of you. Do not volunteer information not asked for.
  • Speak in your own words. Don’t try to memorize what you are going to say. Doing so will make your testimony sound "pat" and unconvincing. Instead, just be yourself.
  • Do not exaggerate or guess with your answers. If you do not know or truly cannot remember, it is okay to say that.
  • The judge and the jury are interested in the facts that you observed or personally know about. Therefore, don’t give your conclusions and opinions, and don’t state what someone else told you, unless you are specifically asked.
  • You will be "cross examined" (asked questions) by the attorney(s) representing the defendant(s). The basic purpose of the cross examination is to raise doubts to the jurors about the accuracy of your testimony. Sometimes the questions are repeated and appear to be challenging your answers. Do not get angry or lose your temper while on the witness stand. You may be experiencing those feelings but it is best to remain calm and answer the questions so as not to lose the respect of the judge and the jury.
  • Sometimes an attorney may ask this question: "Have you talked to anyone about this case?" It is perfectly proper for you to have talked with the Assistant U.S. Attorney, federal law enforcement agents, the police or family members before you testify, and you should respond truthfully to the question.
  • Stop answering immediately when an attorney "objects" to a question or when a judge interrupts you, and wait for the judge to tell you to continue.
  • After you have testified in court, you should not tell other witnesses what was said during the testimony until after the case is over. Thus, do not ask other witnesses about their testimony and do not volunteer information on your own.
  • Jurors who are sitting on the case in which you are a witness may be present in the same public areas where you will be. For that reason, you should not discuss the case with anyone.
  • Waiting to testify can be stressful and sometimes the wait is long. Bring along reading material, crossword puzzles, etc. Whatever will help to keep you calm during the wait.

A witness who is subpoenaed (who is not a federal employee or in the military) is entitled to witness fees each day the witness is required to be in court or to attend a pretrial interview. After testifying or when you have been released by the judge, you must fill out a Fact Witness Voucher to claim the witness fee, mileage, and parking reimbursement.

The Fact Witness Voucher can be obtained from the receptionist at the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Federal Building, Room 6-100. The voucher will be processed and the check will be mailed to you.

Updated February 20, 2015