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JonnyCeltics's avatar

Should I be scared or aware of something before I testify in court as a witness?

Asked by JonnyCeltics (2690 points ) February 7th, 2012

I witnessed something that involved a gun and stepped forward to the police. I could have been hurt; someone else could have as well. After the person was caught, which occurred literally seconds after I witnessed something, I came forward to the police.

Now I am being asked by the DA to testify in court because they are trying this person.

I’m nervous. I’ve never taken a stand before and I believe, whether this person deserves it or not, that it’s difficult to support putting someone in jail (I personally don’t think our correctional system is worth a damn). Should I be worried of who is there to support this person? I am worried someone will come after me, or threaten me (as what happened after I came forward to the police)... I guess I’m just looking for answers, knowledge, to prepare.

Am I even required by law to attend?

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11 Answers

jca's avatar

The DA should coach you ahead of time – tell you what to expect, what he or she will ask you and about the cross examination. You will be cross examined by the other attorney, which means they will try to discredit you. They’ll try to make you look stupid, or a liar, or try to make it like you don’t know what you’re talking about. They might try to discredit you in that you have a history of drug use, lying under oath, anything. They’ll try to get you to contradict what you said previously. Only answer what is asked of you, don’t ramble on. If you don’t know, say you don’t know. Don’t guess (and be wrong).

wundayatta's avatar

I don’t know where you live, but where I live, witness intimidation is a fact. Witnesses have been murdered. It all depends on who you will be telling on.

I would ask the DA about the dangers of testifying, just to see if they tell you the truth or not. Sometimes, if you are justifiably concerned, they will move you to a safe place while you testify. On the other hand, you may be overly concerned and there may be nothing to worry about in your area. Like I said, it depends on who it is that you are testifying against. If it’s a crime lord of some kind, I would worry.

marinelife's avatar

Let the DA know that you were threatened, and tell them you are scared and you want them to analyze the danger.

Jeruba's avatar

I commend you for your willingness to be involved. I don’t want to alarm you, but I do want to share this with you.

A man I used to know, an extremely brilliant man with a canny mind and a knack for strategy and manipulation, used to have to testify in court fairly often because of his business. These were civil cases, but I think the lesson is the same. He told me that lawyers in court can get you to say anything they want you to say. Because you can answer only what they ask, because you can’t volunteer anything, and because they are good at applying pressure, they can twist your testimony and skew the apparent logical conclusions.

This man was furious one time because he had real evidence against someone and they wouldn’t let him just tell what he knew. From the way they posed the questions and what they didn’t ask, they elicited a very distorted picture that he was powerless to correct.

This even happened to me as the foreman of a jury. In answering only what the judge asked me and not volunteering anything, I was forced to convey an impression about the jury’s deliberations that was the opposite of the truth. There was nothing I could do. I tried to speak up and she stopped me. I was so frustrated that I went home and wrote the judge a letter, to which she essentially replied “Oh, well.”

I agree with the advice to stick to the truth, don’t let them force you to make guesses, and say you don’t know if you don’t know.

JonnyCeltics's avatar

Thanks for the support. It is even possible for me to simply not communicate with them and stay out of it? I live in NYC. I have asked that the prosecutor coach me…

The thought of looking this man in the eye, regardless of what he’s done, and being partially responsible for perhaps putting him in prison, may feel sh*tty.

Pandora's avatar

If he goes to jail, it isn’t you who is going to put him there. You will simply be telling the facts as you saw them. The jury will decide his fate. But mostly know this. He decided his own fate when he held a gun in his hand and did the crime. Yes, the justice system needs a lot of improvement but in the mean while we cannot let people who are a danger to society, run around the streets armed and feel that they can get away with it. You were lucky you were not harmed. Next person may not be lucky. Would you rather live with that on your concious instead?
Also know the right thing isn’t always easy. If it was the world would be full of people always making the right choice.
If you are concerned for your safety, than do talk to the DA as suggested about that. Ask him if its possible to make their case without you.

andrew05's avatar

If it’s to much for you i’d recommend you stand down.But here’s something for you to ponder on (yes your right to be scared).How ever how would you feel if you never took the stand and a child was killed by the vary person who you were to scared to take the stand on.furthermore if the D.A are involved your safety will be there number1 priority.

Jeruba's avatar

Any follow-up to this, @JonnyCeltics?

JonnyCeltics's avatar

@Jeruba yes, actually. After getting a call and a few emails from not one but two lawyers from the DA’s office who intended to try this person, I heard nothing. Nada. Perhaps my questions and apparent reluctance scared them away. Perhaps it was something totally different/else. I’m really not sure.

anartist's avatar

@JonnyCeltics they probably had enough evidence without you, and didn’t need a reluctant witness with misgivings. You could possibly have hurt their case.

VS's avatar

Or the guy just pled to some lesser charge and avoided a trial which happens frequently. Glad you were spared the courtroom drama though @JonnyCeltics

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