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Witness Responsibility

If you are called as a witness in a trial, there are several important things to remember. The most important is that you are sworn to tell the truth even though it might not help the person for whom you are testifying. Once called to the witness stand, you must answer all questions asked of you with one exception. You cannot be compelled to answer questions which may subject you to criminal prosecution. If there is any doubt in your mind as to whether your testimony may tend to incriminate you, you should consult your own attorney as far as possible in advance of the trial, especially if you have been subpoenaed.

Here are some basic rules for you to remember if you are asked to be a witness. Do not memorize your testimony. A jury tends to doubt a witness who seems rehearsed. Stop testifying immediately if the judge interrupts or if the opposing attorney objects. Listen carefully to all questions. If necessary, ask for the question to be repeated or clarified. Think before you answer, but don't take so long that it seems that you are making up an answer. If a question can be answered by giving a reply of yes or no, simply do so. If you need to explain or qualify your yes or no answer, you will be permitted to do so. Answer only the question that you have been asked, and do not volunteer unnecessary information that is not requested.

Always remember that while the attorney may be polite while you are being questioned, it is often the attorney's job to challenge your testimony, reliability, and credibility as a witness. You should expect to be asked questions designed to test the accuracy and completeness of your memory as well as your honesty.

You may be asked whether you have talked with anyone about the case or your testimony. If you have, do not deny it. In order to avoid any inference that you were told what to say, you may identify the individual with whom you spoke and that you have been advised only to truthfully testify about the facts as you remember them. Testifying for a prolonged period of time can be tiring, and you might easily become nervous and confused, so be careful.

Your conduct as a witness is also important. The judge and jury will weigh your testimony by your actions and attitude. You should dress conservatively in clean clothes. Do not chew gum. Stand up straight while you take the oath and answer "I do" clearly. Sit up in the witness chair and speak loudly and clearly enough for everyone to hear you. You are expected to show respect for both the court and the legal process so do not gossip about the case anywhere in the courthouse. Look directly at the jury when you testify and speak to them as you would to a friend. Never exaggerate. And remember always to remain calm and tell the truth.