What to Know if You’re Called as a Court Witness

court witness

What to Know if You’re Called as a Court Witness

You’ve seen courtroom scenes played out on countless television programs and movies. When you get contacted to serve as a court witness, do you believe what you’ve seen? It might be intimidating to leave the world of fiction and deal with the court system for real.

Let’s review the facts, just the facts, of what it means to be a court witness. These general concepts may be similar in many countries throughout the world. You can compare these guidelines from Australia to these in the United States. Be sure to check your local judicial system to make sure you understand the rules and processes in your community.


The Purpose

The general idea in most courts in the free world is that court cases are between two sides. Each side gets to present evidence in order to convince a jury of the truth. The two sides may have very different ideas of what the truth is. Ideally, as the evidence is presented, the truth will emerge for the jury to see clearly.

A witness is one of the sources of evidence. Sworn testimony and physical evidence are the two main types. The testimony of a witness can be helpful in different kinds of disputes, like civil, family and criminal cases. The important point is that you are there to assist the court by telling what you know.

You may be an expert with professional knowledge that will be helpful. You also may have heard or seen something that will help the court come to a decision. Both sides of the case can present their own witnesses and evidence.

If you are called as a witness, you are required to attend. You could receive a subpoena in person, via email or in the mail. If you do not cooperate, you could be arrested and forced to perform your duties anyway.




The attorney requesting your presence will provide you with instructions. Make sure you provide a good contact number so that they can update you if the situation changes.

The attorney will prepare you for the questions that you will be asked. The information you provide must be relevant to the case. You may consult with your own attorney if you need more time or assistance to prepare.


In Court

The instructions will also explain when and where you should report. Most courts follow a strict rule that witnesses should wait outside until called in to give their testimony. This will help ensure that witnesses do not influence one another through their statements.

You will be asked to give a sworn testimony. There are commands in the Bible, and possibly other religious views, that may warn followers to not take an oath or swear to anything. The solution that is presented is to give an affirmation. The result is the same; you promise to give an honest testimony.

When it is your turn, you will give your account. Then the other side of the case will question you in a cross-examination. Often depicted in those dramatic television programs, this is the opportunity for the other side to thoroughly review your knowledge of the events and information.

Listen carefully and answer directly and briefly. Do not elaborate or volunteer information. If the examiner needs more information, he or she will ask another question.

Also popular in fictitious depictions is the demand to answer “yes” or “no.” You do not have to answer this way if your answer would be incomplete. Make your statement completely and confidently.

If you realize you made a mistake, you should also ask if you can make a correction or clarification immediately.

Take your time and think before you speak. When you are done, you can leave or join the gallery and watch the rest of the session.


Money and Time Concerns

If you lose income or incur expenses because of your obligation to attend court, you can claim these as witness expenses. The party who summoned or subpoenaed you will compensate you. There are rules for how and when you can claim reimbursements.

Sometimes a case is settled the morning of the hearing. You should not feel that your participation was wasted. It is possible that your presence influenced the settlement and made the proceedings conclude more efficiently.


PHOTO: Ohio DUI Defense / CC0 Public Domain


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