Prepare for Court
- Dress. It is helpful to make a good first impression by dressing neatly to show respect for the court. (Similarly, wearing hats or even chewing gum is generally not acceptable in court). You may also want to bring a sweater or dress warmly as many courtrooms are cool.
- Parking. Parking can be difficult. Most street parking is limited, may require you to pay parking meters, and includes the risk of having your vehicle towed during certain hours. When driving to the Hall of Justice at 850 Bryant Street, many people choose to park in the paid parking lots located across the street. These lots are expensive and will not be paid for by the District Attorneys Office.
- Sequestering. Witnesses or potential witnesses will more than likely be sequestered from the courtroom, which means that they will not be allowed in the courtroom during any other witness testimony. This can be very frustrating for victims/survivors and witnesses, but it is a common practice and done to ensure that the witnesses' testimonies do not influence each other.
- Waiting. The court process can be very long. Even if you were asked to be here for court first thing in the morning, it is possible that you will need to wait for a large part of the day for your turn to be in court. Bring a book, cards, or anything to keep you occupied during your wait. Snacks are a good idea as well as toys for young children.
- Electronics. Turn all pagers or cell phones off or to vibrate while in the courtroom. This is very important as many judges do not tolerate pagers and cell phones in the court room and will kick you out of the courtroom.
- Who will be in the courtroom?
In the courtroom will be the following:
- Court Reporter
- Court Clerk
- Prosecuting Attorney (Assistant District Attorney)
- Defending Attorney (Public defender or private defender)
- Interpreters, if needed
- Police Officers and Investigators involved in the case
- Any other witnesses
- Know that a courtroom is a public place and unless specified otherwise by a judge, almost anyone can observe the proceedings.
During a preliminary hearing, evidence suppression hearing or trial, you may be questioned by the prosecuting attorney (A.D.A.) and the defending attorney. The following are some pointers on how to be a good witness.
- Be truthful. Never exaggerate or shade your testimony. Just tell the facts, simply and concisely, as you know them.
- Focus. Listen carefully to the question. If you do not understand a question, ask for clarification.
- Do not guess. Give definite answers whenever possible. If you do not know an answer do not be afraid to say so. Do not stop to figure out whether your answer will help or hurt the case for either the prosecution or defense. Just answer questions to the best of your knowledge.
- Answer only the question asked. Do not try to say everything at once or volunteer information that wasn’t asked.
- Explain your answer, if necessary. If the answer cannot be answered truthfully and fully with a simple "yes" or "no" you have the right to ask the judge to permit you to explain your answer after first answering "yes" or "no"
- Be prepared. Do not try to memorize what you are going to say; try to recall relevant facts.
- If asked, "Have you talked to anyone about this case?" Do not forget to mention your conversations with the prosecutor, defense attorney, or staff members such as paralegals, investigators, or victim advocates.
- When an attorney objects to a question. Do not answer the question until the judge rules on the objection and instructs you to answer the question. If the judge believes the objection has merit, the objection will be "sustained." If the judge does not believe the objection has merit, the objection will be "overruled." If you are confused, ask the judge for direction.
- Remain calm and courteous. Do not lose your temper or become angry, as it may diminish the impact of your testimony.
- Speak clearly and loudly. Always face the person questioning you, and speak clearly enough to be heard by a jury. Do not simply nod for a "yes" or shake your head for a "no."
- Dress neatly and always show respect for the court. For example, chewing gum or wearing a hat while on the stand will not be acceptable in court.
- Be yourself. The judge, jurors, and attorneys are human and appreciate sincerity.