- Introduction & Contact Information
- What is a subpoena?
- How do I prepare to testify in court?
- Where do I go and what do I do when I arrive in court?
- What will happen in court?
- How should I behave in court?
- What should I keep in mind when answering questions in court?
- Do I have to answer every question I am asked?
- How long do I have to spend in court?
- What if someone tries to get me to change my testimony?
- What happens if there is a delay or adjournment?
- Are there any childcare facilities in the courthouse?
- Will I be paid for being a witness?
- Are there any special protections available for witnesses who testify in criminal court?
Introduction & Contact Information
The following explains your rights and responsibilities as a witness in the criminal courts of Greene County, Missouri.
If you are a victim of crime and will be appearing as a witness for the prosecution in a criminal case, you may wish to click on the Victim/Witness Office tab above or call the Victim/Witness Services Office at 417-868-4082 or 800-552-0911 for information and assistance and to set up an appointment to meet with the assistant prosecuting attorney assigned to your case prior to your scheduled testimony.
If you will be appearing as a witness for the prosecution in a criminal case, you may wish to click on the Victim/Witness Office tab above or call the Victim/Witness Services Office at 417-868-4082 or 800-552-0911 to set up an appointment to meet with the assistant prosecuting attorney assigned to your case prior to your scheduled testimony.
If you will be appearing as a witness for the defense in a criminal case, you can call the defense attorney whose name appears on your subpoena to answer your questions.
A preliminary hearing and/or trial is held when a person who has been charged with a criminal offense pleads "not guilty." You may be called as a witness by either the prosecuting attorney, who is the lawyer acting for the state, or the defense lawyer who is acting for the accused. You could be called as a witness by both lawyers.
As a witness, you have an important duty. The testimony of witnesses is an important source of information for the courts and helps the judge or jury decide whether the accused is guilty or not guilty.
Before You Testify in Court
What is a subpoena?
A subpoena is a court order that tells you to appear in court at a specified date, time and place to give evidence. You may wish to show the subpoena to your employer to arrange for time off to attend court.
If you are unable to attend court because of a serious circumstance, you should immediately contact the Victim/Witness Services Office. If you fail to obey a subpoena, a warrant may be issued for your arrest or you may be charged with contempt of court.
You can contact the Victim/Witness Services Office to make an appointment to prepare for court.
You should check the DOCKETLINE the evening before the court date to be sure the proceeding is going ahead as scheduled. There is a button on the Greene County Prosecuting Attorney's home page that will take you to the DOCKETLINE or you may call (417) 868-4082 between 5:15 p.m. and 8:00 a.m.
If you are subpoenaed by the prosecution and later contacted by the defense attorney, it is okay to talk to the defense attorney. However, you are under no legal obligation to do this. If you have any questions, call the Victim/Witness Services Office and ask to speak with the assistant prosecuting attorney who had you subpoenaed. If you wish, prior to speaking with the defense attorney you may request that an assistant prosecuting attorney be present during your conversation with the defense attorney. You also have a right to seek advice from an independent lawyer at your expense, although a witness is not usually represented by a lawyer.
How do I prepare to testify in court?
Before going into court to give your testimony, try to remember details about what happened, such as conversations, who was present, dates, times, colors, distances and any other relevant facts. If you made notes at the time of the event, you may be allowed to take these into court with you and you should let the assistant prosecuting attorney handling your case know that you have such notes and ask him or her if this is possible. If you signed a statement for the police at the time of their investigation and cannot remember what you said, you may arrange with the assistant prosecuting attorney to see it again.
Where do I go and what do I do when I arrive in court?
It is important that you arrive at the Victim/Witness Services Office on the second floor of the Greene County Judicial Courts Facility, 1010 Boonville Avenue at least 15 minutes before the time given on the subpoena. Make certain you know the location of the courthouse and allow enough time to find a parking space.
When you get to the courthouse, proceed from the front door, through the security check point to the second floor. After you exit the elevator or reach the top of the stairs, you will find the Victim/Witness Services Office to the right at the end of the hallway. The Victim/Witness Advocates will direct you to the correct courtroom and the assistant prosecuting attorney who subpoenaed you may have some questions to ask you before court begins.
A friend or family member may go with you to court. Usually, a witness is asked to stay outside the courtroom until it is time to testify. After the witness is finished testifying, he or she is usually not allowed to stay in the courtroom for the rest of the trial. Victims, however, have a right to attend all proceedings that the defendant has a right to attend. If you are a victim and wish to watch the proceeding, discuss this possibility with the assistant prosecuting attorney handling your case.
Testifying in Court
What will happen in court?
When it is your turn to answer questions, your name will be called and you will be directed to the witness stand. Prior to taking your seat, the judge will ask you to swear an oath to tell the truth. Most witnesses take the oath to tell the truth, if you do not wish to swear to tell the truth, you can ask the judge to solemnly affirm the truth. Inform the assistant prosecuting attorney prior to your testimony if you prefer to affirm.
Child victims and witnesses may be called to serve as a witness in a preliminary hearing and trial, if they are able to understand and answer questions and promise to tell the truth. The Greene County Prosecuting Attorney's Office participates and co-sponsors a program called "Kids Court" that introduces child witnesses to the court room setting and aims to reduce the anxiety that comes naturally with appearing and testifying in an unfamiliar setting. For more information see the Kids Court link on the Victim/Witness Office Tab.
The prosecution's case is presented first. If you are a witness for the prosecution, you will be questioned by him or her first. This is known as direct examination. You will first be asked some preliminary questions such as your name and background information and then will be asked questions about the crime that you witnessed. When the prosecuting attorney has finished, the defense lawyer will ask you questions. This is known as cross-examination.
The case for the defense is presented next. If you are a witness called by the defense, you will be questioned first by the defense lawyer and then cross-examined by the prosecuting attorney. While you are on the witness stand, the judge can ask you questions at any time.
Both the prosecuting attorney and the defense must follow rules of evidence when questioning witnesses. Neither the prosecuting attorney nor the defense can ask leading questions of witnesses for its own side. A leading question is one that suggests its own answer. Instead, they must ask the kinds of questions that allow witnesses to use their own words to describe what they saw or heard. Leading questions are allowed in a cross-examination. The defense can ask leading questions of prosecution witnesses and the prosecuting attorney can ask leading questions of defense witnesses.
How should I behave in court?
- Turn off your cell phone before entering the courtroom.
- Stand up when the judge enters or leaves the courtroom.
- Do not discuss your testimony with other witnesses.
- If a jury is present, do not talk to jurors.
- In court, your job is to tell the truth and to answer the questions you are asked to the best of your memory.
- You should wear neat, clean clothing.
- Judges are addressed as "Your Honor", "Sir" or "Ma'am".
- Follow the instructions of the judge.
- Remain quiet if you are in the courtroom waiting to testify or watching other testimony or proceedings.
What should I keep in mind when answering questions in court?
- It is normal and natural to feel nervous when answering questions in court. Take your time when you are answering questions - there is no need to feel pressured.
- Listen carefully to the question that is asked to make sure you hear it properly. Do not guess at what is being asked.
- If you don't understand a question, ask for the question to be repeated or asked in another way.
- Be as clear as possible. Avoid phrases such as "I think" or "I guess". If you do not know the answer to a question, say so.
- Tell the truth and to answer the questions you are asked to the best of your memory.
- Answer the questions you are asked and then stop. The judge and jury are only interested in the facts. Don't give opinions or draw conclusions unless asked.
- If you become upset during your testimony or need a break, you may ask the judge for time to regain your composure or to take a break.
- Always be courteous.
- If you make a mistake in your evidence, inform the prosecuting attorney or defense lawyer as quickly as possible so that the error may be corrected.
- If an attorney misstates a fact in his or her question, politely correct the misstatement and then answer the question.
- Speak clearly and loudly so that everyone in the courtroom can hear you. If you have soft voice you may be asked to speak into the microphone so that you can be heard more clearly.
- Do not shake or nod your head to indicate "yes" or "no". Your testimony may be recorded to create a transcript or record of the trial.
- At times during your testimony there may be objections by an attorney to the question asked by the other side. If this happens wait for the judge to sustain or overrule the objection before you answer the question. The judge will then tell you whether you must answer the question. If the judge does so and you no longer remember the question, you may ask to have the question repeated.
Do I have to answer every question I am asked?
Sometimes the subjects of testimony by their nature concern personal or embarrassing matters. If that is the case you should answer the question despite the fact that is about something personal or embarrassing. The lawyers involved in a hearing will typically object if irrelevant questions are asked. If a question is embarrassing for you to answer and seems irrelevant to the case and no objection is made, you may ask the judge if you have to answer. If the judge rules that the question is relevant, you will have to answer it.
You may not want to answer a question because you believe the answer might incriminate you and lead you to be charged with a crime. If you have a question about whether answering questions might incriminate you, you may wish to seek the advice of your own attorney prior to the date of your scheduled testimony.
How long do I have to spend in court?
Court proceedings can be very complex, so there is no way of knowing how long each case will take. The courts typically set several cases at the same time and they are taken up in the order the judge directs. We will make every attempt to keep your wait to a minimum. After you testify, you must stay in the courthouse until you are excused by the judge or until the case is finished for the day. The judge may ask if there is any need for you to stay after you have given evidence. If the answer from both the prosecuting attorney and the defense lawyer is "no," you will be able to leave. The assistant prosecuting attorney handling your case will let you know when you have been released.
What if someone tries to get me to change my testimony?
If someone tries to get you to change your testimony, tell the prosecuting attorney or the police immediately.
What happens when there is a delay or adjournment?
If there is a delay or adjournment in the trial, the judge will usually set a new court date and time. Your original subpoena will continue to be in force for the new day.
Are there any childcare facilities in the courthouse?
The courthouse does not provide childcare. You must make arrangements for someone to look after your children while you are in court.
Will I be paid for being a witness?
Witnesses subpoenaed by the prosecuting attorney may fill out a witness fee form at the Victim/Witness Services Office and may receive a fixed daily rate plus mileage. By law, these fees are added to the court costs upon a conviction and are paid only after a defendant has paid his or her court costs. There is unfortunately, therefore, a significant delay between the hearing at which a witness testifies and the receipt of the witness fee. If you are coming from out of town and special arrangements need to be made concerning your travel, please contact the Victim/Witness Services Office as soon as possible after you receive your subpoena.
Are there any special protections available for child witnesses who testify in criminal court?
The Missouri Child Witness Protection Act contains a number of ways to make it easier for young (under 14) victims and witnesses to testify. The purpose of the act is to facilitate testimony that is fair and accurate, for the benefit of all parties, and to protect all parties from the risks of a child becoming confused while testifying in a judicial proceeding. The provisions of the act apply to:
A person fourteen years of age or under (or at the discretion of court, a person 15-17) Who is witness in judicial proceeding under chapter 452 or 453, RSMo (divorce or adoption), OR Who is alleged victim or witness in judicial proceeding under chapter 455, 565, 566 or 568, RSMo (crimes involving: adult abuse, offenses against person and family and sex offenses)
What rights does the act give to qualifying child witnesses:
- Child friendly oath
- Age appropriate questions
- Limits to duration of testimony or time of day
- Comfort item
- Support person
- Protection from intimidation or harassment
- Accommodations for comfort of child
If your child is a victim or witness subpoenaed by the prosecution please contact the Victim/Witness Services Office to schedule an appointment with the assistant prosecuting attorney assigned to the case to discuss preparation for your child’s testimony, the availability of protections under the Child Witness Protection Act and Kids Court. Kids Court is a program designed to introduce child witnesses to the court room setting and aims to reduce the anxiety that comes naturally with appearing and testifying in an unfamiliar setting. For more information see the Kids Court link on the Victim/Witness Office Tab.
The above information is published by the Greene County Prosecuting Attorney's Office. It contains general information about the law. It does not contain a complete statement of the law in this area and is not a substitute for legal advice.
If you need legal advice, contact a lawyer. If you do not know a lawyer, call the Springfield Metropolitan Bar Association referral service 417-831-2783 or http://www.smba.cc/LawyerReferralService.cfm.