Your Day In Court
You have been asked to come to court to be a witness. If you are the victim you are called the complaining witness. You are going to testify about some information you have about a criminal case. Your honest and complete testimony about the case is very important.
- If you received a subpoena, bring it with you when you come to court. It has information and directions that may be useful to you.
- Arrive on time and make your presence known. Show your subpoena to the police officer at the reception desk of the District Attorney's Office.
- You will meet with an Assistant District Attorney, who will help prepare you for your experience in court.
- Do not discuss the case or your testimony with other witnesses or attorneys. Avoid talking about the case in the presence of the jury or anywhere in the courthouse where you may be observed or overheard.
- Listen carefully to all instructions given to you by the court or the Assistant District Attorney.
- Focus on what is said to you and think before you speak.
- Be sure you have heard and understood a question before you answer it. Ask to have the question repeated or rephrased if necessary.
- Sometimes you may give a wrong answer because of nervousness or a lapse of memory. If you realize you gave an incorrect answer, correct it immediately.
- Answer only the questions asked. Do not volunteer information.
- If you do not know or remember the answer to a question, say so.
- Do not answer a question if the court "sustains" an objection to it. If one of the attorneys objects to a question, do not answer until the court has ruled on the objection.
- If you are asked "Have you spoken to anybody about this case?", answer honestly and completely. Under normal circumstances, you will certainly have spoken at least to an Assistant District Attorney.
- Do not generalize or exaggerate. If your answer is only an estimate, say so.
- Do not give your opinion unless specifically asked to do so.
- Do not be afraid of the judge or jury. Look them in the eye and tell the truth.
- Avoid distracting mannerisms such as chewing gum or slumping down in the chair.
- Always be courteous and respectful. Don't lose your temper. Don't make jokes or wise cracks. Never argue with the defense attorney or the judge. Keep your cool!
- If your testimony takes a substantial length of time and you feel you need a break, you may ask the judge for a recess.
As a complaining witness you are one of the most significant persons in the criminal court process, and your testimony can be a major factor in the outcome of the case. Although it is your responsibility to testify, we know that can be stressful. We also know it can be inconvenient to be away from your home or job -- perhaps on more than one day -- to appear in court. We know, too, that the process can be very confusing. To make that process more understandable, we provide some advice in When You Come to Court and When You Give Testimony. Here, we provide answers to some of the questions that witnesses in the Bronx ask most frequently. We hope you find the information helpful.
Q. What should I do if I have questions about the case in which I am involved, or when and where I should go?
A. If you have questions about your case you may call the Assistant District Attorney handling it. If you do not know who that assistant district attorney is, you may call the Crime Victims Assistance Unit at (718) 590-2115. It is important that you have the defendant's name and docket/indictment number available when you call. The Bronx County Criminal Court and the Bronx County Grand Jury are located at 215 East 161 Street, Bronx, New York 10451.
Q. What should I do if I can't appear on the day I'm scheduled to testify?
A. While you must make every reasonable effort to appear in court or the Grand Jury when required, there may be truly urgent situations when you simply cannot appear. In such emergencies, immediately call the assistant district attorney or the Crime Victims Assistance Unit and provide complete details. Appropriate action will be taken. If you have been directed by subpoena or court order to appear, you must call the court if you cannot do so. If you have received a subpoena from the Bronx Grand Jury, call the number on the subpoena Monday to Friday, 8:30 a.m. - 5:00 p.m. In any event, please do not try to be excused because you are stressed about being a witness. Just about every witness feels that way and postponements are rarely granted.
Q. How many times will I have to testify?
A. In Bronx County, most felony cases require that you testify once before the Grand Jury and, if the case goes to trial, once during the trial. In misdemeanor cases, you ordinarily will testify once.
Q. How long will my testimony take?
A. Testimony before the Grand Jury usually lasts from just a few minutes to an hour. During a trial the amount of time will depend on the length of direct examination and cross examination by the assistant district attorney and the defense attorney.
Q. Must I speak with a defense attorney or investigator before trial?
A. No. If you are contacted by an attorney or an investigator who works for the defense, you may talk with them if you wish but you are not required to do so. If you tell anyone you do not want to discuss the case, and he or she continues to bother you, please call the District Attorney's Office immediately. You have the right not to be threatened or harassed in any way because you are a witness.
Q. What should I tell my employer?
A. Explain that you have received a subpoena to testify for the prosecution in a criminal case. Most employers are understanding and supportive. It is a crime for an employer to discharge an employee because he or she is a witness in a criminal case. If there are questions, your employer may call the Crime Victims Assistance Unit.
Q. What should I do if I am threatened?
A. If you are being threatened by the defendant or anyone else in regard to a criminal case pending in the Bronx, immediately call your local precinct or 911, and then call this office at (718) 590-2004.
The Crime Victims Assistance Unit (CVAU) of The Bronx District Attorney's Office provides a variety of services to victims, witnesses and their families. We will answer your questions and make every effort to help you understand and be an effective part of the court process. If you are having physical, financial or emotional problems as a result of a crime committed in the Bronx, we offer our assistance to help you address these concerns. If you have questions or problems, please do not hesitate to call us at (718) 590-2115. We are in our offices Monday - Friday, 8:30 a.m. - 5:30 p.m.
If you have a case pending in the criminal courts, you may have questions about procedures, dates, etc., CVAU Advocates inform victims/witnesses about the status of their cases, answer questions about criminal proceedings and aid the victims/witnesses in understanding their role and rights in the court process.
CVAU Advocates can refer victims, witnesses and others (family members, partners, etc.) for a variety of professional counseling that address the trauma and other emotional issues that may be the result of a victimization.
Although the CVAU does not itself offer financial compensation, we can help with applications, claimant affidavits and assembly of the supporting documents required by the New York State Crime Victims Board. CVAU regularly makes successful referrals to the Board for emergency awards. For more information on this or other sources of financial assistance please call CVAU.
Transportation arrangements can be made for those, such as the elderly or disabled, who have serious difficulties getting to and from court. Please call CVAU before your next court date for this help. Victims and witnesses may draw upon the support and reassuring presence of a CVAU Victim Advocate in the courtroom during trial testimony.
CVAU assists in shelter placements for Battered Women, their children, and for survivors of sexual assault. We can provide advocacy services with public assistance, public housing, employers, schools, creditors, etc. as necessary to help victims/witnesses with their crime-related problems. CVAU makes every effort to meet the special needs of the victims and witnesses we serve.
Crime Victims Assistance Unit
Crime Victims Assistance Unit, Organizational Glossary