Nobody likes having to testify in Court. It is a nervous experience, especially if you are accused of some sort of wrong doing, or if a friend or family member is so accused and you are in Court concerning the accusation. If there is a possibility that the answer could incriminate yourself, you have a 5th Amendment Privilege not to testify. There are other instances in which privilige can be asserted in order to limit or prevent the testimony from being offered. Whenever you have a question about a privilege that may apply to your situation, you should consult with a lawyer. In the absence of a privilege, testimony can be compelled.
When I prepare my client and/or a witness to testify in Court, I always give them the same advice concerning their testimony:
FIRST: Testify truthfully. If you are inconsistent, it will be brought out during questioning. Attorneys that litigate are trained in the examination and cross examination of a witness. They are prepared for the testimony - and often will have statements that they will allege that you previously made in a police report, a doctor's report, a child protective services report, etc..
SECOND: Listen to the entire question before you give an answer. If you do not understand the question, ask for the question to be repeated or rephrased.
THIRD: Answer only the question that is asked of you. If your answer drifts into other areas, it makes it seem like you are being evasive.
FOURTH: Do not speculate or guess. If you know the answer to a question, go ahead and answer the question - don't guess or speculate in order to give an answer.
FIFTH: Do not get into a pissing contest with the Prosecutor. Maintain your composure. Remember, that the Prosecutor is doing a job that he or she is trained to do. If you take what the Prosecutor is doing personally, it will make the experience worse and it could affect you believability.
SIXTH: Dress appropriately. If you want the Judge or Jury to respect your answers, dress in a way that shows that you respect yourself.
SEVENTH: Come prepared. If you are subpoenaed to bring documents with you, make sure that you do. If the documents contain your own statements, make sure you know what those statements are (unless the documents are sealed).
EIGHTH: Remove any bubble gum or food from your mouth prior to entering the Court room.
NINTH: When you answer a question, make sure you are clear. A court reporter cannot record a head nod. The court reporter cannot interpret words like uh-huh. Judges and jurors may not understand slang - and they may not respect your testimony if you speak in slang.
TEN: Be on time. Courts, and attorneys, do not like to wait. If you have any concern that your testimony may incriminate yourself in any way, consult with an attorney before you are called to testify.
If you are on trial, accused of a crime, consider the advice of your attorney regarding trial strategy, before making the decision to testify or to offer any witnesses to testify.
Again, there are also certain other reasons why you may not wish to testify, such as if there is a privilege involved. The attorney should be able to tell you if the privilege you want to assert is valid or not. In most instances you have at least 48 hours notice before testifying. If you fail to appear for Court when you are subpoenaed, there is a risk that you could be found in contempt of court. In some instances the Prosecution will ask for a material witness warrant if you fail to appear, which gives the police the ability to arrest you and hold you in custody to insure that you will appear and offer testimony.
Do not wait until the last minute to consult with an attorney.
Hiring the right criminal defense lawyer may be one of the most important decisions you make for yourself and your family. There are many lawyers who claim to do more than what they are able - just as there are many surgeons in the world that are no better than butchers. Do not settle for a legal hack job. Practicing law is a skill that develops over time with experience, commitment, dedication, and God given talent. There are no amateur attorneys at Hilf & Hilf, PLC – only professionals that are guided by the humanity in the individuals we serve, and the drive not to settle for what is easy over what is right.