Preparing a California Crime Victim or Witness
to Testify in Court

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Taking the witness stand can be scary.  But if you've been victimized by crime, it's important that you tell your story.  Our California Crime Victim Advocate Attorneys have extensive experience with witnesses.  We can help you prepare for the witness stand so you feel comfortable and confident when you testify.

If you've been victimized by a crime, it's completely normal to feel apprehensive about testifying in court.

The witness stand can be an uncomfortable place for anybody, but this is especially true for a crime victim.  Maybe you don't want to come face-to-face with the person who harmed you.  Maybe you are afraid of being put under a microscope in cross-examination.

But your testimony is important for the wheels of justice to turn.  If you don't speak up, the person who harmed you may not be held accountable.

Our California Crime Victim Advocate Attorneys have examined (and cross-examined) hundreds of victims and other witnesses in court cases throughout California.  We can help you prepare to testify in court, so you feel comfortable and confident on the witness stand.1

In this article, we give a brief overview about how to testify on the witness stand.  We cover:

1. Is it possible to "prepare" for my testimony?
2. What are tips for how I can succeed on the witness stand?

If you have further questions after reading this article, we invite you to contact us at Shouse Law Group for a consultation.

1. Is it possible to "prepare" for my testimony?

When it comes to giving testimony on the witness stand, there are always going to be surprises.  But you can still be prepared for the experience.

Preparation involves talking with your attorney about what is going to happen and possibly even doing a "mock" testimony.

Your lawyer may not be able to anticipate every single question that will be asked. But he or she will likely be able to give you a heads up about many of them.

You don't want to "over-practice," because you don't want your testimony to be seem rehearsed and not genuine.  But a certain level of preparation and getting familiar with what is going to happen can lessen a witness' anxiety and make the testimony more effective.

Let's look at an example:

Example:  Kelly is a film producer who lives in Manhattan Beach, California.  Unfortunately, Kelly is victim of California Penal Code 530.5 pc identity theft and loses all kinds of money as a result.  She works closely with prosecutors and they think they got the guy who did this.

Kelly has a good relationship with the deputy district attorney. But she knows he has a heavy caseload and is busy.  Kelly is very busy, as well, having just signed onto an exciting new film with innovative special effects.

The trial for California Penal Code 530.5 pc identity theft is coming up and Kelly wants to spend more time preparing for it than the prosecutor is willing to give her.  Further, she wants someone who can work with her on her schedule (which means nights and weekends), and who can assist in restitution calculation and paperwork.

After talking with friends, Kelly hires California Criminal Defense Attorney John Murray.  Not only has California Criminal Defense Attorney John Murray prosecuted fraud cases, he's also defended them.  He's calculated countless restitution orders, is very client-centered and keeps flexible hours.  He also specializes in courts of the South Bay and Orange County.

The two meet to discuss Kelly's upcoming testimony.  They go over probable questions and traps the defense attorney might try to spring on her.  They even do a mock testimony.

Kelly gives very effective testimony at trial and the perpetrator is convicted.  Also, thanks to the help of California Criminal Defense Attorney John Murray, Kelly is successful at getting the judge to issue a restitution order directing the perpetrator to pay Kelley back the entire amount she lost as a result of his fraudulent conduct.

You can read more about victim restitution and restitution orders in our related articles Victim Restitution & Compensation in California Criminal Cases; Calculating Restitution Orders in California; and Making a Restitution Claim to the California Crime Victim Compensation Program (CalVCP).

2. What are tips for how I can succeed on the witness stand?

If you are going to be called as a witness in a case, the best idea is to sit down one-on-one with your attorney to discuss what will happen and what is the best strategy.

"You'll feel better once you have some idea of what to expect," says California Criminal Defense Attorney John Murray, who helps prepare witnesses for cases throughout the San Gabriel Valley and who has a reputation as a tenacious, penetrating and unflappable cross-examiner.

"There's a strategy behind what questions a lawyer asks and what order the lawyer asks the questions in," Attorney John Murray explains.  In light of this, Mr. Murray advises witnesses not to "guess where the examiner is going with his or her question."

"Listen to the question and take a moment to think about what the answer is," he says.  "Then answer."

California Criminal Defense Attorney John Murray handles cases involving all kinds of misdemeanor crimes in California and felony crimes in California.  He began his legal career cross-examining cops at Department of Motor Vehicle (DMV) hearings in DUI cases in California.  Now he handles cases involving
Drunk Driving DUI in California, California Penal Code 288 pc lewd conduct with a minor, and California's Three Strikes Law, among others.

Here are some other tips to keep in mind when you testify on the witness stand:

  • Tell the truth.  Say you don't know if you don't know the answer to a question and that you don't remember if you don't remember something rather than guessing.
  • Ask for clarification if you need it.
  • Just answer the question that is asked.  Don't volunteer "extra" information.  Keep it simple and straightforward.
  • Stay calm and never argue with an attorney.  Sometimes lawyers on the other side will try to bully and intimidate you.  Don't fall into that trap.  Rise above it and let the judge deal with an out-of-line attorney.
  • Dress conservatively and maintain a respectful attitude towards the judge and the court process.
  • Speak loudly and clearly...the court reporter needs to take down everything that you say so if you mumble you will be asked to repeat yourself.  Besides, you will appear more confident if you speak loudly and clearly.

Sometimes a victim needs help with more than just getting ready to testify.  For more information about victim rights and victim advocacy, please see our related articles Witness Protection and Other Victim Services in California Criminal Cases; Victim Rights and Victim Advocacy in California Criminal Cases; and Advocating in Court for California Crime Victims.

Our California Crime Victim Advocate Attorneys Can Help...
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If you or loved one is victim of a crime and you are looking to hire an attorney for representation, we invite you to contact us at Shouse Law Group. We can provide a free consultation in office or by phone. We have local offices in Los Angeles, the San Fernando Valley, Pasadena, Long Beach, Orange County, Ventura, San Bernardino, Rancho Cucamonga, Riverside, San Diego, Sacramento, Oakland, San Francisco, San Jose and throughout California.

Helpful links:

California Witness Relocation and Assistance Program (CalWRAP)

Domestic Violence Council of Los Angeles

California Victim Compensation and Government Claims Board

Countywide Criminal Justice Coordination Committee

Marcy's Law for All

California Department of Justice Victims' Services

Los Angeles County District Attorney Victim-Witness Assistance Program

Los Angeles City Attorney's Office Victim's Services

California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation Victims Services

Los Angeles County Sheriff Department Victim Information and Notification Everyday

References:

1 Our California Crime Victim Advocate Attorneys have local Los Angeles law offices in Beverly Hills, Burbank, Glendale, Lancaster, Long Beach, Los Angeles, Pasadena, Pomona, Torrance, Van Nuys, West Covina and Whittier.  We have additional law offices conveniently located throughout the state in Orange County, San Diego, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura, San Jose, Oakland, the San Francisco Bay area, and several nearby cities.

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