TO THE WITNESS As a witness to a crime,
your cooperation is essential to make the criminal justice system
work. This brochure has been developed by the Clark County Prosecuting
Attorney in an effort to lessen your inconvenience and to help
you feel more comfortable in the courtroom.
If you have any questions or problems, feel free
to contact the Victim / Witness Assistance Program of the Clark
County Prosecuting Attorney at (812) 285-6264. Victim Advocates are available to assist
you. Our Office is open to serve your needs from 8:00 a.m. to
4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday for telephone calls or walk-in
assistance. After hours, Victim Advocates may be reached through the dispatchers of local police departments.
CRIMINAL COURT PROCEDURE A criminal case
is begun by the Prosecutor filing an Information, or by a Grand
Jury returning an Indictment against the defendant. Unless the
defendant enters into a plea agreement, his guilt or innocence
will be determined at a trial on a date determined by the trial
judge. Unless waived by the defendant, all trials are jury trials.
RECEIVING A SUBPOENA A subpoena is a court
order directing you to be present at the time and place stated.
Once you are served with a subpoena, you are obligated to appear.
Failure to appear may be understood as contempt of court by the
judge, and may result in dismissal of the criminal charges, so
it is very important that you inform the Prosecutor if you cannot
appear as directed. Indiana law makes no provision for reimbursement
of expenses other than mileage to witnesses for court appearances
at a criminal trial. If this creates a hardship, the Victim/Witness
Assistance Program of the Prosecuting Attorney will make every
effort to help you.
BEFORE THE TRIAL The key to any successful
prosecution in a criminal case is careful preparation by witnesses,
and a thorough investigation by the law enforcement agency. Adequate
documentation is essential. All reports, statements or other evidence
in the case should be brought to the attention of the Prosecutor
well in advance of trial so that he/she may adequately comply
with Court ordered discovery. The Court may exclude from the trial
any evidence where the defendant is not notified before trial
of its existence.
You are under no obligation to speak with the defendant,
his attorney or his investigator before trial. That is entirely
up to you. Any effort to do so should be reported to the Prosecutor
immediately. In any event, you may be required to give a deposition,
where you will provide sworn testimony and answer questions outside
the courtroom in the presence of the Prosecutor, the Defense Attorney,
and a stenographer.
If you have not had previous Courtroom experience,
make it a point to visit the Court and listen to others testify.
This is the best way to understand and familiarize yourself with
what you will face as a witness without taking the stand yourself.
AT TRIAL Effective Courtroom performance
is founded upon experience and diligent preparation. Before taking
the stand, you should be thoroughly familiar with all reports
prepared by you, and all statements or depositions given by you.
Any change in testimony at trial may result in impeachment by
defense counsel and points scored by his client.
It is common procedure for the trial court to exclude
all witnesses from the Courtroom while others are testifying.
This is to insure that the testimony of a witness does not influence
the testimony of another. Do not discuss the testimony of witnesses
who have already testified. Once you have testified you are free
to leave the Courtroom, or remain in the audience, unless otherwise
ordered by the Judge or requested by the Prosecutor.
WHEN TESTIFYING Here are some suggestions
to keep in mind as you prepare for your court appearance:
(1) Always tell the truth. At trial, as in all
other matters, honesty is the best policy. If you tell the truth
and tell it accurately, nobody can cross you up. Do not guess
or make up an answer. If you do not know the answer it is best
to say, "I don't know." If you are asked about details that you
do not remember it is best to say, "I don't remember."
(2) Dress neatly and conservatively, and be courteous.
The way you dress and present yourself is a direct reflection
on you. You want to be sure that your appearance and manner do
not distract the judge or jury from careful consideration of your
testimony. Police officers should be in uniform, or in at least
a sport coat and tie. No tinted glasses or flashy jewelry. A question
should be answered, "Yes, sir," or "No, sir," and the judge should
be addressed as "Your Honor."
(3) Be attentive. You should remain alert at all
times so that you can hear, understand, and give a proper response
to each question. If the judge or jury get the impression that
you are bored or indifferent, they may tend to disregard your
testimony. Use good posture, do not slouch.
(4) Take your time and speak clearly and loudly.
Give the question such thought as it requires to understand it.
The juror farthest from you should be able to hear distinctly
what you have to say. Do not chew gum and keep your hands away
from your mouth. Since all testimony is recorded, do not nod your
head "yes" or "no".
(5) Answer all questions directly. Answer only
the questions asked, then stop. Avoid "volunteering" information.
If you do not understand a question, ask that it be explained.
Do not look at the lawyer for help while you are testifying and
never ask the Judge if you have to answer. You are on your own.
This will give the jury the impression that you are holding something
(6) Be serious in the Courtroom. Avoid joking and
wisecracks in the jury's presence. The jury is sitting in judgement
of another person whose liberty is at stake. That is always a
very serious matter. BEWARE of hallway actions and conversations.
(7) Do not lose your temper. Remember that some
attorneys may attempt to wear you down so that you will lose your
temper and say things that are not correct. Hold your temper and
your testimony will be much more valuable. Do not fence or argue
with the attorneys. They have a right to question you, and many
are very expert in this craft.
(8) BEWARE of questions involving distance
and time. If you make an estimate, make sure that everyone understands
that you are estimating. BEWARE of questions asking if you are
willing to swear to your version of the events. You were "sworn"
to tell the truth when you took the stand, do not be afraid of
saying so. BEWARE of questions asking if you have spoken to the
prosecutor, witnesses, or police officers. If you have, admit
it freely. This preparation before trial is expected in each case.
If you are asked if you talked with the Prosecutor about your
testimony, admit that you met with him, talked about the case
and he instructed you to tell the truth. BEWARE of questions asking
why you don't like the defendant. you may best respond by stating
that you feel sorry for any man in trouble, but you must tell
the truth, and if the defendant is guilty, he should be convicted.
BEWARE of questions asking you if another witness was telling
the truth or lying. You can only tell the truth based upon your
observations. You have no way of knowing what another person observed,
especially when you did not hear that person testify. BEWARE of
the simple question, "Why are you here today?" You are not here
to volunteer information in order to convict. You appeared at
trial in response to being served with a subpoena issued by the
(9) Give positive, definite answers when at all
possible. Avoid saying, "I think, I believe, In my opinion." A
witness testifies to facts, not beliefs, or opinions. Do not say,
"That's all that happened." Cover yourself, and say, "That's all
I recall." Later in your testimony, you may remember more details.
(10) Be yourself. Do not use "legalese" or police
"lingo" just for the sake of impressing the jury. It will have
the opposite effect.
The most effective witness is one who can tell
their story comfortably. Just tell the truth and be yourself.
Everything else will take care of itself.