WHAT TO DO WHEN YOU ARE ON THE WITNESS STAND
1. When you are called as a witness, stand upright while taking the oath. Pay attention and say “I do” clearly, so that all can hear. Try not to be nervous; there is no reason to be.
2. While you are on the witness stand, you are sworn to tell the truth, so tell it! DO NOT IMPROVISE, GUESS, GIVE OPINIONS (unless asked to give your opinion), CONJECTURE, SPECULATE, OR SAY WHAT YOU THINK THE ATTORNEY WANTS YOU TO SAY. JUST TELL THE TRUTH FROM YOUR PERSONAL OBSERVATIONS, HEARING, SIGHT, OR WHAT YOU ACTUALLY WITNESSED.
3. If you do not understand the question, say so. Do not be embarrassed. If you cannot understand the question being asked of you, then how can you truthfully answer it? Listen carefully to what you are being asked. You may ask to have the question repeated if necessary. If you still do not understand the question, then say, “I do not understand the question”. Never answer a question that you do not fully understand or before you have thought your Answer through. Remember to only ATFQ.
4. ATFQ: Answer only the question asked. If appropriate, answer directly and simply with a “yes” or “no”. Then, stop. Do not volunteer additional information that is not asked of you. If you say too much, your response may become legally objectionable under the technical rules of evidence. If you believe that an explanation is required, then say so. Sometimes an attorney will try to limit you to a “yes” or “no” answer. If that happens, simply say that you cannot answer the question “yes” or “no.” Usually the Judge will let you explain.
5. Speak in your own words. There is no need to memorize your testimony beforehand; in fact, doing so is likely to make your testimony sound “pat” and unconvincing. Be yourself.
6. Speak clearly and loudly enough so that the Judge can hear you easily. You are being recorded.
7. The court only wants the facts that you yourself have observed, not what someone else told you. Nor are they interested in your conclusions or opinions. Usually you will be unable to testify about what someone else told you, and only “expert” witnesses are allowed to give their conclusions and opinions.
8. When at all possible, give positive, definite answers. Avoid saying “I think,” “I believe,” or “In my opinion” when you actually know the facts. But if you do not know or are not sure of the answer, say so. There is absolutely nothing wrong with saying “I don’t know.” You can be positive about the important things without remembering all the details. If you are asked about little details that you do not remember, just answer that you do not recall.
9. Do not exaggerate. Be wary of over broad generalizations that you may have to retract. Be particularly careful in responding to a question that begins, “Wouldn’t you agree that…?” Note also that statements like “Nothing else happened” are dangerous; after more thought or another question, you may remember something else. Say instead, “That’s all that I recall,” or “That’s all I remember happening.”
10. If your answer was wrong or unclear, correct it immediately. It is better to correct a mistake yourself than to have the opposing attorney discover an error in your testimony. If you realize that you have answered incorrectly, say “May I correct something I said earlier?” or “I realize now that something I said earlier should be corrected.”
11. Stop talking the instant the Judge interrupts you, or when an attorney yells OBJECTION! Do not try to sneak in Answers, they will not be considered as evidence.
12. Always be polite even if the opposing attorney is not. Do not be an argumentative or sarcastic witness. Remember, the attorney has a big advantage: he asks the questions.
13. Testifying for a substantial length of time is surprisingly tiring and can cause fatigue, crossness, nervousness, anger, careless answers, and a willingness to say anything in order to leave the witness stand. If you feel these symptoms, strive to overcome them, or ask the judge for a five minute break or to allow you to have a glass of water.
14. Falsus in Uno, Falsus in Omnibus: false in one, false in all: This saying comes from a Roman legal principle indicating that a witness who willfully falsifies one matter is not credible on any matter. Do not trap yourself as a false witness. It is the kiss of death. Just tell the truth.