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When Victims and Witnesses Testify

By: the California Office of Victim’s Services

Victims and witnesses may testify at the preliminary hearing (prelim) and/or trial.

If you testify, keep these things in mind:

When you are in court:

  • Dress neatly. Do not wear shorts, tank tops or hats. Do not chew gum.
  • Do not talk to jurors, the judge or the defendant.
  • Be calm and polite to everyone. Do not get angry or impatient.

When you testify:

  • Wait until the lawyer finishes the question before you start to answer.
  • Be yourself and just say what happened. (Do not try to memorize what you are going to say.)
  • Speak clearly and loudly. Always look at the person questioning you, and speak clearly enough so the jury can hear you.
  • Say “Yes” or “No” out loud. A court reporter will write down everything you say. So, you must use words. It’s not enough to nod or shake your head.
  • If one of the lawyers objects to a question, do not answer it until the judge says you can.
  • Only answer the question they ask you. If they want more information, they will ask you more questions.
  • Tell the truth and don’t exaggerate.
  • If you do not understand a question, say, “I don’t understand.”
  • If a lawyer asks you a question, and you cannot remember the answer, say “I don’t remember.” If you remember the answer later, tell the Deputy DA.
  • If you do not know an answer, say, “I don’t know.”
  • If you cannot answer truthfully with a “Yes” or “No,” ask the judge to let you explain.
  • If they ask you “Have you talked to anyone about the case?” you must mention your conversations with the prosecutor, defense lawyer, their investigators and/or victim advocates.

If your friends or relatives come to court, ask them to follow these rules:

  • Dress neatly. Do not wear shorts, tank tops or hats.
  • Do not chew gum, smoke, or have food or drink in the courtroom.
  • Do not talk when court is in session.
  • Stay calm and try to avoid gestures and facial expressions.
  • Follow the bailiff’s instructions about where to sit, etc.
  • Never talk to the judge, jury or defendant.