BRIEF GUIDE FOR A WITNESS IN A CRIMINAL CASE
This may answer some questions you have about serving as a witness.
What is a Subpoena
As a witness in a criminal proceeding you have been subpoenaed to appear in court to testify. Your subpoena is simply a court order directing your appearance at the time and place stated. Once you have been subpoenaed you are required to appear as ordered until excused. Failure to appear may be regarded by the Court as contempt. It is very important that you communicate with this office if you cannot appear as directed.
As a witness you have a very important duty to perform. In order for a jury or a judge to correctly decide the facts of the case, evidence must be presented in a truthful manner. This obligation of citizenship is essential to our American system of justice.
It is your duty as a witness to give your testimony when it is needed, although it may not be convenient for you to leave your home or place of business to spend one or more days in court. Please remember that justice cannot be accomplished unless people are willing to appear and testify in court.
Be on Time
Report to the District Attorney’s Office on the day and time listed on the subpoena. If the subpoena has a number for you to call please call on the date requested and you will be told when to report. By requesting you to call, the Assistant District Attorney assigned to the case will try to coordinate the witnesses in the case to report only on the day you are needed for court.
A fundamental rule in a criminal case is that both the prosecution and the defense have the opportunity to question the witnesses. When the Assistant District Attorney calls upon you to testify, he or she will question you as to the specific facts within your knowledge. After this direct examination is completed, the defense attorney will have the opportunity to ask you questions relating to the same facts. This is called cross-examination. Questions asked by both sides are directed toward achieving one goal to determine the truth in the case. Don’t let cross-examination upset you. It may appear at times that the defense attorney is trying to contradict you, but he or she has the right to test your memory and knowledge of the relevant facts in order that the judge and jury can properly regard your testimony.
Appearance and Attitude
- Dress appropriately and always be courteous.
- Do not chew gum or wear sunglasses when testifying.
- Your appearance and manner should not distract the judge and jury from careful consideration of your testimony.
Listen Carefully Before Answering Questions
- Understand the question before you answer.
- Have it repeated if necessary.
- Think before you answer and do not rush into answering. However, there should not be an unnaturally long delay following a simple question if you know the answer.
- Answer only the question asked. Do not give your opinion unless you are specifically asked for it.
- Give positive, definite answers and avoid saying, "I think", "I believe" or "In my opinion". If you can, always be positive.
- If you don't know the answer to a question, say so.
- If you don't understand the question, don't try to answer, but ask that it be explained.
Stop instantly when the judge interrupts you, or when an attorney objects to a question. Wait until objections are ruled on before answering.
Do not volunteer information that is not actually asked for. Remember the judge and jury are only interested in the facts.
- Speak clearly and loudly. Everyone in the courtroom must be able to hear what you have to say.
- Although the experience of testifying is unnerving, the judge and jury can only consider what they are able to hear and may judge your truthfulness by the confidence in your voice.
- Don't be nervous and try to relax as much as possible - you are not on trial.
- Speak as though you are simply telling some neighbors what happened.
- If the judge or jury get the impression that you are bored or indifferent, they may tend to disregard your testimony.
Even if the lawyer questioning you may appear discourteous, don't become angry or argumentative. This will lose the respect of the judge and jury.
Becoming angry will probably cause a witness to exaggerate and appear unobjective and unreliable. KEEP CALM!
FINALLY, ABOVE ALL, TELL THE TRUTH!!!
The Berks County District Attorney's Office is located on the fifth (5th) floor of the Berks County Services Center, 633 Court Street, Reading, Pennsylvania.
Parking is available in the Court Street Parking Garage directly across from the Services Center. You are required to pay for your own parking expenses.
If you have any special needs and require assistance, please call the Victim/Witness Assistance Unit at (610) 478-6000.
Please print this page and fill out this form to keep as a reference when calling about your case:
District Attorney's Phone
_____(610) 478- ______
Phone # on Subpoena
(case docket number)
(Assistant District Attorney)
(Day/Time to appear in Court)