Nervous about court? Not many people like to testify under oath. Scary, intimidating, emotional are how some describe court. Others may also describe it is liberating (believing that “the truth shall set you free”). Some people get enjoyment or feel it is a civic duty to tell on other people. Their are also expert witnesses that are sometimes paid to offer an opinion in a trial. There are many different ways and motivations for how someone becomes a witness to a case. Regardless of the means that someone becomes a witness, knowing what to expect and how to handle the experience is critical.
- Lawyer up! Everyone has a constitutional right to retain legal representation in court. It does not matter if you are just a witness to an alleged crime or a particular circumstance – you can hire a lawyer to help you. There are several advantages to having your own legal representation. First, you are able to have someone to consult with about your anticipated testimony. Second, your lawyer can help you assert any privileges that you may have (5th Amendment privilege against self incrimination, spousal privilege, etc.) when applicable. Third, when you are represented by counsel, the Prosecution and Defense counsel are supposed to go through your lawyer in an effort to question you. Hence, having a lawyer is like having a buffer from other lawyers. Fourth, it is difficult to be in court alone. Having a lawyer can help with the stress and emotional strain of having to appear in court and testify. Fifth, the lawyer can help assert your position about a case, when appropriate. For example, in many cases the Court will order no contact between the Defendant and his spouse when the Defendant is charged with domestic violence against his spouse. Sometimes domestic violence cases are blown out of proportion, and the lack of contact causes a hardship. Having a lawyer may help convince the Court that the removal of the no contact provision is appropriate and necessary under the circumstances. Sixth, having a lawyer can help prepare you for what you might be asked in Court. Seventh, when appropriate a lawyer acting on behalf of a witness can try and negotiate with the Prosecution about the witness’s immunity from criminal prosecution.
- Listen to your lawyer. When your lawyer gives advice, it is probably for good reason. Your lawyer more than likely has the educational background and courtroom experience needed to offer sound legal advice and to develop a strategy in connection with a case. Persons who don’t listen to their lawyer often act at their own peril. For Defendant’s, even though they have the absolute right to testify or remain silent, they should consider the advice and strategy of their lawyer in making their decision to testify or elect not to testify. Witnesses, when properly subpoenaed, have no choice in the matter unless there is a privilege that can be asserted. Properly subpoenaed witnesses must appear at court when subpoenaed and testify under oath when called. It is important for a witness to realize that a prosecutor is not their lawyer; the prosecution represents the government and not any particular citizen. Also, the only person who a defense lawyer represents is their client. The defense lawyer is loyal to their client only, and is generally unable to represent witnesses due to a conflict of interest.