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  • NOTES FOR WHEN YOU TESTIFY IN COURT

    This week’s question:

    I have been subpoenaed into court to testify about an auto accident that I saw two years ago and I am terrified. What do I say? How do I dress? What if I do not know the answer to a question? Any help you can give me will be deeply appreciated.
    /s/Jennifer J.
    Almaden Valley

    Dear Jennifer:
    Your questions are good ones, Jennifer, and I will do my best to answer them. Many witnesses do not look into how to testify in court and it often creates problems for everyone. Sometimes serious problems.
    Before you testify, make a visit to the accident scene to refresh your memory about major landmarks, such as streets, directions, stop signs, and the like. Try to visualize again what happened and note the location of physical objects, approximate distances, and similar things.
    On your day in court, dress neatly but do not overdress. Your normal business attire is probably just fine.
    If you have received a subpoena, take it with you. It will have useful information on it, such as the courtroom, the case name, and other information. If it came from an attorney’s office, note the name and telephone number of the attorney. He or she may want to talk with you before you testify in court. This is perfectly OK.
    Wait outside the courtroom if the trial is in process. Breaks or “recesses” are taken periodically. During the break, the attorney who subpoenaed you will talk with you or you can obtain information from the clerk of the court.
    Avoid any undignified behavior such as loud talking or loud laughter, gum chewing, and the like.
    When you are on the stand, you will first be sworn in to tell the truth. The proper response is “I do”. Try not to be nervous, since there is no reason to be nervous.
    Always tell the truth, no matter what. Feel free to look at the judge or jury. Talk to them like you are talking with a friend or neighbor. Speak loudly enough so that everyone can hear you.
    Speak in your own words. Do not try to impress anyone. There is no reason to even try to do that. As I often say to clients or witnesses who are going into court with me, the most important thing to remember is to just be yourself.
    Answer the question that is asked and then stop. Do not tell a long, rambling story. Make sure you understand the question. If you do not understand it, say so.
    Many questions can be answered with a simple “yes” or “no” answer. If not, a short, clear answer will be best. If you need to explain your answer, say so.
    Try to avoid saying “I think” or “I believe” or similar answers. If you were there and know what happened or did not happen, be clear about it. For example, if you saw the traffic light and it was red for one of the drivers, say so.
    If you make a mistake testifying and realize it later, clear it up as soon as possible. That is much better that just ignoring the problem.
    Try not to say something like “Nothing else happened”, since that may not be correct. Try to say something like “That’s all I recall happening”. You can see the difference in those phrases.
    If you do not know the answer to a question, it is perfectly OK to say, “I don’t know”, if that is the truthful answer.
    If the judge directs you to stop or wait, of course you will want to do so. If one of the attorneys objects to a question, wait until the judge makes a ruling.
    If the objection is “sustained”, it is a good objection and you must not answer the question. Do not try to “sneak” in the answer. If the objection is “overruled”, it is not a good objection and you need to answer the question. If you forgot what the question was or judge’s ruling was, say so.
    You may become anxious, nervous, or upset while testifying which is often creates fatigue, crossness, anger and the like. If you feel those symptoms coming on, ask the judge for a five-minute break for a glass of water.
    Now, Jennifer, read these suggestions again. They may mean more to you the second time through. And best wishes in your testimony. I know you will do a great job!!

    /s/Donald J. DeVries
    Almaden Valley

    You can reach Mr. DeVries with your questions by email at don@almadenvalleylawyers.com, with “Almaden Times” in the subject line, fax at (408)268-6502, telephone at (408)268-9500, or mail at DeVries Law Office at 6475 Camden Avenue, Suite 200, San Jose, CA 95120. Your name will not be used. No attorney-client relationship is created by these articles.

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