SO YOU ARE GOING TO BE A WITNESS!
The following was reprinted in part with permission of The Florida Bar. To order a free pamphlet on this subject send a self addressed, stamped legal size envelope to Consumer Pamphlets, The Florida Bar, 650 Apalachee Parkway, Tallahassee, Florida 32399-2300.
You are annoyed; you are upset; and you are nervous. You'll lose time from work. Your leisure time is being interfered with. You'll waste time in court waiting to be called to testify. You don't know anything about the case. Why don't they use the statement you gave them before the trial so you won't have to appear? These feelings are frequently expressed by people when they are called upon to appear in court as witnesses.
This article is designed to explain your role as a witness in a lawsuit and the "dos" and "don'ts" of testifying.
You, as a witness, have a very important job to do, important not only to the party for whom you appear and to yourself, but also to the American system of justice. In order for a jury or a judge to make a correct and wise decision, they must have all of the evidence put before them accurately and truthfully by witnesses. Your lack of cooperation or failure to come forth as a witness could cause an unjust result in a trial.
All the people involved in a legal action, the judge, the lawyers and the parties, I know your time is valuable and you have other things you would rather be doing than testifying in court. Every attempt will be made to waste as little of your time as possible. There may be unavoidable delays in getting you on and off the witness stand, but be patient. You have not been forgotten.
Frequently, witnesses who have already given oral or written statements before the trial are called to testify. You may wonder why you should be inconvenienced by going to court when your statement could be used in lieu of your appearance. Under our adversarial form of trial, the judge would not allow the statement into evidence, be cause the law requires the witness to appear in court, tell his or her story under oath and be subject to questioning by all parties. Therefore, even though you have previously given a statement about the facts of the case, your presence at the trial is still required.
Persons called as witnesses frequently believe they do not know any relevant facts about the case and therefore should not be called. However, you may know a very important fact about the case, even though it may seem unimportant to you. Remember, the lawyers investigate thoroughly and l know what testimony is necessary to win the case. If your testimony is not essential to the case, you will not be called.
If you are subpoenaed to court, do not ignore the subpoena. It is an order of the court and must be obeyed. Failure to appear in court in response to a subpoena could place you in contempt of court. The subpoena may contain a note asking you to call the lawyer who issued it for instructions as to where to appear for trial. Do soŠit will save you time.
If you have already given a written statement, you may refer the lawyer to that statement. It is not necessary that you give more than one written statement. As in every other endeavor in life there is a right way and a wrong way to be a good wltness.
THE FOLLOWING WILL BE HELPFUL TO YOU IN COURT:
Prior to your appearance in court, go over the facts of the case in your mind. If it is an accident case, visit the scene of the aooident. It may help to refresh your memory.
When you take the witness stand, get comfortable, sit erectly and look around you to familiarize yourself with the court surroundings.
In testifying, the first rule is to tell the truth. Don't answer questions with half-truths. Don't try to judge whether an answer is going to help or hurt one side or the other. Don't let your personal judgment of who should win or lose color your testimony. Avoid expressing your opinion about the guilt or innocence of the involved parties. That is the job of the jury. As a witness, your sole duty is to tell it like you saw it. Nothing more, nothing less.
Answer the questions clearly and loudly enough so everyone can hear you. Don't talk too fast or too slowly. Don't mumble or slur your words. Look at the jury and address your remarks to it, so that the jury members will be able to hear and understand what you have to say.
Be serious at all times. The courtroom is not the place to be cute or humorous.
Do not memorize your testimony. It will sound rehearsed and lack the ring of truth.
Listen to the questions carefully. If you do not hear a question, ask that it be repeated. If you do not understand a question, ask that it be rephrased. Don't attempt to guess at an answer to a question that you didn't understand or hear. If you do not know the answer to the question, state simply that you do not know. The trial of a court action is not like a television quiz program where you must come up with some type of a guess for an answer.
Answer directly and simply only the questions asked you, and then stop. Do not volunteer information.
If you make a mistake in answering a question, correct it immediately.
If a question can't be truthfully answered with a "yes" or "no," you have a right to explain the answer.
If an objection is made by one of the lawyers, or the judge speaks, stop your testimony immediately. Do not try to complete your answer.
Don't argue with the lawyer asking the questions.
While testifying on cross-examination, don't look to the lawyer who called you for help in answering the question. You are on your own. If the question is improper, the lawyer will object and the judge will rule on it, It is important, however, that you listen to the objection so that you understand why it is being made.
If the question is about distances, time or speed and your answer is only an estimate, be sure that you say it is only an estimate.
If you are asked whether or not you have talked to anyone about your testimony before coming to court, be sure to answer "yes" if you have. There is nothing wrong with discussing the facts with the lawyers, parties, police or investigators prior to trial.
Finally, be natural. Be yourself. Don't try to be someone you are not. If you relax and tell the truth and remember you are just talking to some neighbor on the jury, you will get along fine.
Blair & Prather PA, 2138-40 Hoople Street, Fort Myers, Florida