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One of the most crucial aspects of a fair legal trial is the right to call witnesses on both sides. When you are asked to serve as a witness, it is assumed that you are aware of information which could be pertinent to the trial. There are certain legal and social expectations which go along with being a witness, and being aware of them before you go to court can be useful.
In many cases, witnesses are already aware that they will probably be called. The court in which the trial is taking place will issue a formal summons requesting your presence in court on a certain day and time. This summons will also usually indicate who is involved in the trial, and which side called you. A failure to respond to this summons can result in serious jail time and fines. If you feel that you are unable to respond to a summons, you need to arrange a meeting with the judge to discuss your issues. If you have concerns about your safety, make sure to outline them with the judge.+
Commonly, the lawyer who requests your presence as a witness will meet with you before you need to testify. The lawyer may take a deposition, a formal statement which will be entered into evidence, or he or she may simply talk with you to familiarize you with the questions which will be asked. The lawyer cannot tell you what to say on the witness stand, but he or she will try to get you comfortable with the trial, and may offer some tips on how to dress while in court to make a positive impression.
When you arrive in court, you will not be allowed into the courtroom until after you have given testimony. This measure is designed to ensure that you are not influenced by the testimony of other witnesses. Once called, you will be asked to step into the witness stand and take an oath or affirmation. If you are of a non-Christian faith or you would prefer to take an affirmation, you may want to notify the court of this ahead of time, so that a suitable oath can be administered.
The side which called you has the right to question you first. If, for example, you have been called by the defense, the legal team for the defense will question you in an attempt to present your evidence before the jury. You should speak clearly and succinctly, and make sure to make eye contact with the lawyer questioning you and the jury. The other side may object to certain portions of your testimony, in which case the judge will rule that you may continue, or that your interrogator should pursue a different line of questioning.
After you have been questioned, the other side has a right to cross examination. Sometimes, this right will be waived. In other cases, a lawyer will ask you probing questions which are designed to clarify and potentially weaken your testimony. You may even end up feeling slightly attacked or vilified, depending on how the lawyer chooses to question you. By remaining calm and continuing to the truthful, however, you will be doing your job as a witness.
Finally, the lawyer who initially questioned you may question you again, in a process called a redirect. A redirect is used to quickly re-emphasize important points in your testimony, while also correcting any weak points which may have been exposed during your cross-examination. Afterwards, the judge will thank you and dismiss you. At this point, you may remain in court, or you may leave and continue with your day.
While on the witness stand your credibility might also be attacked and the opposing attorney could bring up previous criminal convictions as well as information about your character of "truthfulness or untruthfulness."
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