Eastern District of Pennsylvania
If you are required to testify as a witness in a trial or other proceeding, you will receive a subpoena telling you when and where to go to court. A subpoena is a formal court order, and if you receive one, you must appear in court - there are serious penalties for disobeying a subpoena. If you know in advance of anything that might keep you from attending a required court appearance, let the United States Attorney’s Office know immediately, so that an attempt may be made to adjust the schedule. However, keep in mind that scheduling is at the discretion of the court and sometimes cannot be changed.
- A neat and clean appearance is very important. You should be comfortable, yet appropriately dressed for court (i.e. no hats, shorts, etc.). Avoid distracting mannerisms, such as chewing gum.
- Jurors who are - or will be - sitting on the case in which you are a witness may be present in the same public areas as you. For that reason, you should not discuss the case with anyone - if you see a juror, you are not allowed to speak to the juror, even to say hello.
- When you are called to testify, you will first be sworn in. When you take the oath, pay attention to the clerk, and say "I do" clearly.
- When a witness gives testimony, he/she is first asked some questions by the lawyer calling him or her to the stand; in your case, this is an Assistant United States Attorney. This is called the "direct examination." The basic purpose of direct examination is for you to tell the judge and jury what you know about the case. Then, the witness is questioned by the defense counsel in "cross examination." The basic purpose of cross examination is to explore the accuracy of your testimony. Don’t get mad if you feel you are being doubted on cross examination. Sometimes, the process is repeated two or three times, to help clear up any confusion.
- DO NOT LOSE YOUR TEMPER. An angry or impolite witness will probably not be believed. Always be polite and courteous.
- OBJECTION is a legal term that means one of the attorneys feels you are being asked an improper kind of question. When you hear a lawyer say "objection," simply stop speaking and wait for the judge to make a ruling. If the judge decides the question is proper, he/she will OVERRULE the objection - if the judge decides the question is not proper, he/she will SUSTAIN the objection. You will be told by either the judge or the attorney whether or not to answer that question.
- Whenever you are asked a question, listen to the whole question before you start to answer. Make sure you understand the question and then give your answer. If you do not understand the question or if you want it repeated, say so.
- Before you testify, try to picture the scene, the objects there, the distances, and exactly what happened so that you can recall the facts more accurately when you are asked. If the question is about distances or time, and if your answer is only an estimate, be sure you say it is only an estimate. Beware of suggestions by attorneys as to distances or times when you do not recall the actual time or distance. Do not agree with their estimate unless you independently arrive at the same estimate.
- Speak your own words. Don't try to memorize what you are going to say. Doing so will make your testimony sound rehearsed and unconvincing. Instead, be yourself, and prior to trial, go over in your mind those matters about which you will be questioned.
- Most important of all, you are sworn to TELL THE TRUTH. Tell it. Every true fact should be readily admitted. Don't stop to figure out whether your answer will help or hurt either side. As a witness, you are expected to be an impartial spokesperson for the facts as you know them.
- Try to answer questions by stating what you saw or heard. You should not give an opinion unless you are asked to do so. You shouldn't say what somebody else saw or heard unless you are asked.
- Give positive, definite answers when possible. Avoid saying, "I think," "I believe," or "In my opinion," if you can be positive. If you do know, say so - don't make up an answer. If you are asked about details which you don't remember, simply say you don't remember.
- You should answer only the questions asked and not volunteer information.
- Unless you're sure, don't say "that’s all of the conversation," or "nothing else happened." Instead, say "that's all I recall," or "that’s all I can remember happening." It is possible that after more thought or another question, you could remember something important.
- The court reporter must be able to hear all of your answers, so please don't nod your head for a yes or no answer. Speak loudly and clearly.
- When you answer a question, you may find it easiest to simply look at the person who asked the question. Use the same tone and effort when answering questions from both sides.
- Don't exaggerate or make overly broad statements that you may have to correct. Be particularly careful in responding to a question that begins, "Wouldn’t you agree that...?" The explanation should be in your own words - do not allow any attorney to put words in your mouth.
- If your answer was not correctly stated, correct it immediately, if your answer was unclear, clarify it immediately. It is better to correct a mistake yourself than to have the attorney discover an error in your testimony. If you realize you have answered incorrectly, say, "May I correct something I said earlier?"
- After you have testified, you should not tell other witnesses what was said during your testimony until after the case is completed - do not ask other witnesses about their testimony, and do not volunteer information about your own. Once you have been formally excused as a witness, you are free to go. Remember to fill out the witness voucher, so you may be reimbursed.
If you are a witness, you will receive a witness fee for each day that you are required to attend court in connection with the case, including the time spent waiting to testify. Local witnesses are entitled to parking and mileage reimbursement, in addition to the witness fee for the days you are asked to be in court.
Out-of-town witnesses may receive reimbursement for certain travel expenses, in addition to the daily witness fee. Out-of-town witnesses will be contacted by a representative from the U.S. Attorney's Office who will make all witness travel and lodging arrangements.
- Witness fees are $40.00 for each day's attendance.
- Witnesses will be reimbursed for travel by the LEAST EXPENSIVE mode of transportation.
- All claims for parking must be supported by a receipt.
- Other expenses of $25.00 or more must be supported by a receipt.
- Rental vehicles and other transportation expenses will not be reimbursed without special justification and approval in advance.
- If you are REQUIRED to remain away from your residence overnight, you will receive a meals allowance.
- In order to receive reimbursement for any expenses, arrangements must be made in advance.
United States Attorney's Office
Eastern District of Pennsylvania
615 Chestnut Street
Philadelphia, PA 19106
Phone: (215) 861-8426
Fax: (215) 861-8497
United States Federal Courthouse
601 Market Street
Philadelphia, PA 19106