Publication : Brochures
Being a Witness
The Section of Litigation and the
Public Awareness Committee of the Maryland State Bar Association have prepared
this information. It is intended to inform the public and not serve as
You’ve Been Served a Subpoena: Don’t Panic
You’ve been served a subpoena to appear and testify
in a lawsuit in which you are not a party. The subpoena may direct you to
appear at a law office to give deposition testimony or may direct you to
appear in court to give trial testimony, and may request that you bring certain
documents with you. In either event, you are upset that someone (sometimes
a sheriff) has appeared at your home or workplace with a subpoena and apprehensive
about what will be expected of you when testifying. You know very little
about the case and what you do know happened so long ago that you don’t
trust your recollection.
Your concern about a sheriff serving you with a subpoena
in front of friends and neighbors is an understandable one. You might think
that the sheriff’s appearance will cause others to believe that you
are "in trouble with the law." You should understand that the party
calling you as a witness was required by law to serve you with a subpoena
to assure your appearance and testimony. Service of the subpoena was not
designed to embarrass you, but protect the parties to the lawsuit.
If you have questions about the subpoena, the scheduling
of your testimony or the underlying litigation, you should call the attorney
for the party who has subpoenaed you. The individual’s name and telephone
number is usually found on the subpoena.
Witnesses are frequently asked to testify twice in connection
with a single matter. The first time you testify may be on deposition. Deposition
testimony is typically given in a conference room setting rather than in
a courtroom. The purpose of a deposition is to find out what you know about
the case. The lawyers for the parties, possibly the parties themselves, and
a court reporter will be present.
You will take an oath to tell the truth. The court reporter
will record all the questions asked by the lawyers and all responses given
by you. The deposition may be taken many months or even years before the
case is actually tried. The purpose of the deposition testimony is to record
your recollections of the events at a time when they are relatively fresh
in your mind. Afterward, testimony will be typed in a deposition transcript
after it is given, and you will be given the opportunity to read and sign
it. If you are at all concerned that the court reporter may have improperly
recorded your testimony, you should exercise your right to read and sign
the transcript and correct those areas in the transcript where your testimony
is incorrectly recorded.
Your Day in Court
The second time you testily may be in a courtroom before
a judge and possibly, a jury. You may wonder why you have to testify a second
time when you have already given your deposition testimony. You should understand
that the judge and jurors were not present when you gave your deposition
testimony. In most instances the rules of court forbid the use of your deposition
without the use of your live testimony. Remember that the lawyers investigate
the case thoroughly and know what testimony they must present. If they judge
your testimony to be essential, they will call you. Otherwise, you will not
receive a subpoena.
Being a Witness is Serious Business
Remember that your role as a witness in the judicial system
is an extremely important one. Without witnesses, judges, and jurors could
not fairly decide cases. Your lack of cooperation as witness or your refusal
to testify could lead to a miscarriage of justice. You must take your responsibility
as a witness seriously and use your best efforts to present a clear and accurate
picture of what happened.
DO’s and DON’Ts For Testifying in Court or
- Do go over the facts of the case in your mind prior
to testifying. Separate what you remember from what you think you remember.
You may want to speak with the lawyer who intends to call you as a witness.
There is no obligation to discuss your testimony with any lawyer, but many
witnesses find such a talk helpful.
- Do answer as truthfully, accurately and completely as
possible. Don’t answer a question with half-truths or let your judgment
about how the case should come out affect your testimony. Remember that
you took an oath before testifying to tell the truth. A failure to tell
the truth amounts to perjury.
- Don’t attempt to answer a question unless you
fully understand it. Ask the lawyer to rephrase the question. Don’t
guess at what you think the lawyer is after, make the lawyer explain the
question to you.
- Don’t try to respond to a question if you don’t
know the answer. If you don’t remember the answer to a question,
say so. No one expects you to know the answer to every question and no
one expects you to remember every detail about an event that happened many
- Don’t attempt to answer a question to which an
objection has been made. When a lawyer makes an objection or the judge
makes a comment, stop talking. Wait for a ruling by the judge. If he overrules
the objection, you should answer the question. Listen to each objection
made, so that you understand the basis for the objection.
- Do correct any mistakes made in answering a question
- Do speak slowly and loudly so that all concerned can
hear your testimony.
- Do dress neatly and take your responsibility seriously.
- Don’t argue with he lawyers or the judge. Don’t
allow them to make you angry. Be cool, calm and attentive.
- Do make estimations if a question requires you to do
so, but be clear in your answer that your testimony is only an estimate.
- Don’t guess. It is okay to provide a reasoned
or thoughtful estimate, but do not simply guess or speculate as to an answer.
- Do state that you have discussed your testimony with
others before testifying if in fact you have. There is absolutely nothing
wrong with discussing your testimony with lawyers, parties, police or investigators
- Don’t be offended if you are told not to listen
to testimony given by other witnesses in the case. There is an important
reason for this rule. No one wants your testimony to be colored by the
testimony of other witnesses. You will be expected to give your version
of what happened rather than to parrot someone else’s version.
Being a Witness © 1986,
MSBA, Inc. Revised 1993
All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced in any
form without written permission from the Maryland State Bar Association.