When You Are Called to Testify

Witness Subpoena Hotline

  • District Court: 269-982-8662
  • Circuit Court: 269-982-8621
  • Family Court: 269-982-8694

When Called to Testify

Being called to testify may not be convenient. Your patience and cooperation make the criminal justice system work.

If you have been served with a subpoena on behalf of this office, call the phone numbers listed above after 5 p.m. the evening before the date you are to appear in court. A tape recording will announce if witnesses are still needed in court the following day on your case.

This information could help you avoid an unnecessary trip to the Courthouse. Our hotline has been a very successful tool for thousands of witnesses avoiding unnecessary court appearances each year.

Being called to testify in court may make you nervous. That is a natural reaction. Most witnesses have never testified in court before, and have only seen what witnesses have endured in movies and on TV. However, the criminal justice system cannot work without the cooperation and participation of witnesses.

This page will explain some common-sense witness information, plus answer some typical questions.

If You Have to Testify

  • Tell the truth!
  • Dress neatly: A neat appearance and proper dress in court give an important first, and lasting, impression.
  • Conduct yourself in a dignified manner: The trial or hearing a criminal case is a serious matter.
  • Be prepared: You should know days or weeks ahead of time that you will be testifying in court. Think ahead of time about the answers you will give to the questions you expect will be asked. Think about the incident and what happened so you can recall the details accurately when you are asked in court. If you need help remembering these details, write the facts down. If you have already written a statement for the police, ask the Assistant Prosecutor for a copy; reading it may jog your memory on some details.
  • Do not try to memorize what you will say in court. Jurors are hesitant to believe testimony that sounds "scripted". Also, the lawyers' questions may not coincide with your expected answers.
  • Arrive on time, but be patient: Your subpoena tells you where to be and what time you are expected at court. Get there on time, or a little earlier. Check in with the Prosecutor's office, or court personnel. You might not be the first witness called, so please be patient.
  • Stick to the facts: The Judge or jury only wants to hear the facts as you know them to be, not what someone else told you.
  • Relax; speak clearly: You have nothing to fear when giving true answers. When you are asked questions, give your answer as clearly as possible.
  • Expect to be questioned by several people: One of the basic rules in a criminal case is that both sides have a chance to question every witness. Questions asked by both sides have the same goal -- to find out what is true.
  • Do not lose your temper: Be courteous. Don't let the defense lawyer upset you. It may seem at times that he or she is trying to pin you down, but he or she has the right to test how many of the facts you know and accurately remember.
  • Don't start to answer a question until the question is finished: If you haven't yet heard the entire question, you don't really know what you're being asked. Don't "jump the gun" by answering what you think the question will be (when it is finished).
  • Think about your answer before you give it: Your every word counts. Be descriptive. Be accurate. Vague or inconsistent responses give other people a chance to (mis)interpret what you meant your answer to be.
  • Answer all questions to the point: If the question calls for a short answer, give a short answer; if you need to explain, explain.
  • Answer only the question asked: Do not volunteer additional information.
  • Don't exaggerate or guess: If you don't know the answer to a question, say so - If you don't remember the information that you are asked about, say so.
  • Answer the questions verbally: Your testimony is being recorded (either tape recorded or written down). no head shakes or head nods, or "uh-huh" / "uh-uh" instead of saying "yes" / "no"!
  • Look at the jurors and speak to them when testifying: Jurors are ordinary people, like yourself. They consider attitude, facial expressions, and body language when evaluating testimony.
  • If you don't understand or didn't hear the question, ask that it be explained or repeated.
  • If your answer was not correctly stated, correct it immediately.
  • Never attempt to talk to a juror about the case or any other matter while the case is being tried. This includes chance meetings during recesses, in hallways, at lunch, or any other place.
  • If either lawyer raises an objection, stop speaking at once! After the Judge has ruled, you will be instructed whether to continue.

The Prosecuting Attorney's Office will assist you with any questions you may have prior to your court appearance.