The American justice system depends upon testimony of witnesses. Most testimony is handled orally, but there are some situations in which it is done in writing.
If you have a case in which a lawyer is representing you, and you are a Plaintiff, Defendant, Movant, Respondent, etc., the odds are that you will need to be a witness in your own case. You will probably be requested to give oral testimony, which more often than not will involve you answering questions presented to you by lawyers on both sides of your case.
If you are not a party in the case, you may still be called upon to answer questions as a non-party witness, to clarify the facts for the aid of the Court. You may be called as a witness by one side or the other, or in some cases both.
If you receive a request to testify, it would be wise for you to discuss the matter with your own attorney to determine what your responsibilities, rights and obligations may be.
When you testify in a Court proceeding, you will be under oath. You are required to tell the truth. It is not appropriate for you to guess, exaggerate, or to fabricate facts that don’t exist.
If you are asked a question that is not clear to you, it is generally permissible to ask for clarification. It is important that witnesses understand what is being requested.
Always remember that a person who lies while giving Court testimony may be charged with the crime of perjury, which is quite serious.
Sometimes witnesses are asked questions which are difficult, and which may lead one to anger. However, raising your voice at a lawyer or Judge in a Court proceeding, being critical of the Court or counsel, etc., is inappropriate. When testifying, you should always focus on the question and the answer, and tell the truth. If you don’t know the answer, you should say so.
Many people feel that they are being asked to go above and beyond the call of duty when they receive requests to testify. Sometimes, that may be the case. However, having the ability to question witnesses is one of the hallmarks of our legal system, and often is very necessary to the orderly administration of justice in America.
Many times, acting as a witness can be a very responsible thing for an American citizen to do. If in doubt about your rights or your obligations, we suggest that you should consult your attorney.