1. Jurors and other witnesses may be present in the same public areas as you. For that reason, you should not discuss the case with anyone. In addition, jurors may have the opportunity to observe how you act outside of the courtroom. If you see a juror, you are not allowed to speak to the juror, even to say hello.
2. When you are called to testify, you will first be sworn in. You will be asked to raise your right hand. When you take the oath, pay attention to the clerk, and say “I do” clearly.
3. 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 U.S. Attorney. This is called “direct examination.” Then, the witness is questioned by the opposing lawyer (the defense counsel) in “cross examination.” (Sometimes the process is repeated two or three times to help clear up any confusion.) The basic purpose of direct examination is for you to tell the judge and jury what you know about the case. The basic purpose of cross examination is to explore the accuracy of your testimony. Do not get angry if you feel you are being doubted in cross examination. DO NOT LOSE YOUR TEMPER. An angry or impolite witness will probably not be believed. Always be polite and courteous. In grand jury, there is NOT any cross examination because the defense counsel is not present.
4. Objection is a legal term that means one of the attorneys feels you are being asked an improper question. When you hear a lawyer say “objection,” simply stop speaking and wait for the judge to rule on the objection. 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 may not answer the question if it has been sustained. You will be told by the judge or the attorney whether to answer the question if you get confused. In grand jury, there are NOT any objections because the defense counsel is not present.
5. 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 to 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.
6. Speak in your own words. Do not 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 own mind those matters about which you will be questioned.
7. Most important of all, you are sworn to TELL THE TRUTH. Tell it. Every true fact should be readily admitted. Do not stop to figure out whether your answer will help or hurt either side. You are expected to be impartial.
8. The judge and jury are interested in facts that you have observed or personally know about. Do not give your opinion unless asked. Give positive, definite answers when at all possible. Avoid saying, “I think,” or “I believe,” if you can be positive. If you do not know, say so. Do not make up an answer. Be positive about things you can remember. If you cannot remember details, simply say you don’t remember.
9. You should only answer the question asked and not volunteer information.
10. The court reporter must be able to hear all your answers, so do not nod your head for a “yes” or “no” answer. Speak loudly and clearly. Also, you will sound your best if you do not use words like “yah,” “nope,” and “uh-huh.”
11. Explain your answer if necessary. Give answers in your own words and if the question cannot be answered with a yes or no answer, say so and explain.
12. Do not exaggerate. Don’t 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 an attorney to put words in your mouth.
13. Listen carefully to the whole question you are asked. If you do not understand the question or did not hear it, ask to have it rephrased or repeated.
14. If your answer was not correctly stated, correct it immediately. If your answer was not clear, 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?”
15. Sometimes witnesses give inconsistent testimony – something they said before doesn’t agree with something they said later. If this happens to you, don’t get flustered. Just explain honestly why you were mistaken. The jury, like the rest of us, understands that people make honest mistakes.
16. Sometimes an attorney may ask if you have talked to anyone about the case. It is perfectly proper for you to have talked to people, including the Assistant U.S. Attorney and the case agent before you testified, and you should, of course, respond truthfully to this question.
17. After you have completed testifying, you should not tell other witnesses what was said during your testimony. Thus, 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.