Testifying in Court
Tips on testifying:
- Walk confidently to the witness stand and speak clearly so everyone in the courtroom can hear you.
- Sit comfortably in the witness chair and do not make noises with your hands, feet, or chair. Do not chew gum.
- State your answers truthfully and accurately in your own words.
- Do not be afraid to say that you have discussed the facts of the crime with other people, such as the law enforcement officer, investigator, or prosecutor.
- Think before you speak. If you do not understand a question, say so and ask to have it repeated or rephrased.
- Correct wrong or unclear answers immediately.
- Give definite answers if possible. If you do not know or recall, say so. Do not speculate. If you must estimate times or distances, state clearly that you are going so.
- Be polite, serious, and even-tempered. Some attorneys may try to make you angry. Stay calm—do not argue or become sarcastic.
- Stop immediately if the judge interrupts you or an attorney objects. Do not resume until the judge tells you to continue.
- If asked whether you are being paid for coming to court, be straightforward and state that you are being reimbursed for your expenses by the state.
Tips for children testifying:
- If a child has been called to testify, parents and caregivers should explain to children that they are not in trouble or facing punishment or jail. Reassure them that they will be safe and protected in the courtroom.
- Have the child meet the prosecutor before the trial to prepare the child for testifying and to answer questions. Make sure the prosecutor has a clear understanding of the child’s developmental abilities and any special needs. This can also be a good time to tour the courtroom.
- Explain to the child that it is okay to say that he or she does not understand or does not know the answer to a question. Talk to the prosecutor about having a support person present while the child is testifying and the possibility of the child bringing a comfort object (ex. teddy bear) with them to the stand.
A child under ten years of age is a competent witness unless the court finds that the child lacks the capacity to remember or to relate truthfully facts respecting which the child is examined. In order to determine a witness’s competency to testify, the judge will typically ask questions of that witness to determine competency. The judge will seek to determine whether the witness can tell the difference between the truth and a lie, whether the witness understands the importance of telling the truth, and whether the witness can remember and relate the facts.