Witnesses have rights and responsibilities in the court system.

The District Attorney's Office will assist witnesses with the appearance notification, explanation of court procedures, and intervention with employers.

A subpoena is a witness's official notification to appear in court. It is a court order directing a witness to be present in court at a specific time and place. Failure to appear is against the law.

The District Court handles serious cases (felonies) which can involve state prison sentences or death penalties. District court also handles misdemeanors, which are any crimes that are not felonies.

A witness in a misdemeanor case is usually required to appear only at the trial.

Witnesses in felony cases may be required to make several appearances.

After the District Attorney decides to file a case, the defendant's first appearance in court is at an arraignment. At this time, a judge tells the defendant the charges against him, advises him of his rights, and appoints an attorney if he does not have one and cannot afford one. If the defendant pleads guilty, he may be sentenced. If he pleads not guilty, the case proceeds and a trial date is set. Witnesses need not be present at arraignments.

In almost all felony cases, and in many misdemeanor cases, defense and prosecuting attorneys make pretrial legal motions concerning police conduct, evidence, and identification of defendants. Occasionally, witnesses may be called to testify at a motion.

For trial, witnesses are required to testify. If witnesses cooperate with the instructions for the in-call system of subpoena, they will not be required to make continual appearances and will only have to appear when it is necessary to testify.

Witnesses who are also victims may present their views on the crime and the defendant to the judge for consideration at the time of sentencing. This is done through either the prosecutor or the "Victim Impact Statement".


It is a crime to prevent, or attempt to prevent, a witness from cooperating or from testifying. Witnesses should report such actions to the investigating officer and/or prosecutor who will provide protection and prosecute the crime.

Witnesses are vital to our system of criminal justice. The District Attorney's Office has a special unit, the Victim-Witness Assistance Program, to aid witnesses.

In recent years, professionals in the criminal justice system have come to recognize the need to treat witnesses properly and to assist them in dealing with the court system.

As District Attorney, I am determined to see that witnesses are not mistreated by the system and that their experience with the courts is positive and rewarding.

This pamphlet is designed to explain the system and to prepare witnesses for what to expect. It is part of our overall effort to make the system responsive to citizens who are witnesses of crimes.


  • Please be on time. Consider travel time and parking availability well in advance.
  • Tell the truth. Never exaggerate. Anything but the truth can discredit a witness and weaken the case.
  • Pay attention. Listen carefully and ask for an explanation if you don't understand the question.
  • Answer only the question asked. Tell pertinent information to the Assistant District Attorney prior to being called to testify.
  • Don't guess. If you don't know, say you don't know.
  • Prepare, but don't try to memorize answers. Just spend some time recalling relevant facts.
  • Explain your answer if necessary. If you can't answer correctly with a simple "yes" or "no", ask the judge if you can explain.
  • "Have you talked to anyone about the case?" Answer frankly. Mention the police, prosecutor, investigators, the victim, family, and anyone else you may have discussed the case with.
  • Be serious.
  • Dress neatly.
  • Don't chew gum or talk with your hands in front of your mouth.
  • Speak clearly and loudly. Don't shake your head for a "yes" or a "no".
  • Don't lose your temper. Stay calm.
  • Be yourself. Judges, jurors, and attorneys appreciate sincerity.
  • Stop talking when the judge interrupts you or an attorney objects to a question.
  • Don't give conclusions or opinions. The judge and the jury are only interested in facts.
  • Stay away from jurors. Don't talk to jurors, even on a subject not connected with the case.
  • Don't be discouraged by delays.


  1. Always tell the truth! If you don't know the answer or can't remember a detail, just say so. If you estimate time or distance, say it is an estimate. If you don't hear or understand a question, you may ask that be repeated.
  2. Answer questions so that you can be heard, Do not nod. Look at the jury. Keep your hands from your face. If one of the attorneys objects, do not answer until the judge has ruled on the objection.
  3. Dress conservatively and be courteous. Juries respond negatively to anger and revenge. The only impression the jury will have of you is your attitude and appearance.
  4. The Defendant will be in the courtroom and you may be asked to identify him/her. This will be easier to deal with if you are prepared for it. Remember, he/she is on trial. You are not!
  5. Do not be afraid to admit that you have spoken to the prosecutor about the case. However, do not look at the prosecutor while you are being cross examined by the defendant's attorney.
  6. Be prepared to be sequestered from the courtroom. It is often standard procedure that you only be allowed into the courtroom when you are called to testify.
  7. Once the trial begins, do not talk about the case in the halls or rest rooms. Never speak to the judge or a juror if you encounter them in the halls or at lunch. If you are threatened or harassed about the case, notify the prosecutor immediately.

  1. VOIRE DIRE: The prosecutor and the defense attorney question prospective jurors and select those who will be members of the jury. This process may take one to three days. It is not necessary for any witness to be present during this time.
  2. OPENING STATEMENTS: The prosecutor and the defense attorney make opening statements to the jury outlining each side's case.
  3. The prosecutor calls witnesses and offers evidence.
  4. After the Prosecutor has concluded DIRECT EXAMINATION of a witness, the defense attorney CROSS EXAMINES the prosecutor's witnesses.
  5. When the prosecutor has completed his/her case, or RESTED, the defense attorney may put on witnesses and offer evidence.
  6. Once the defense has RESTED, the prosecution and defense make their CLOSING STATEMENTS to the jury. The witnesses may return to the courtroom for closing arguments.
  7. The jury then retires to DELIBERATE the guilt or innocence of the defendant.