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Old 12-03-2010, 04:09 PM
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Just found this online and thought it was totally awesome....

Tips for Testifying in Criminal Court for Victims of Rape, Domestic Violence, and Child Abuse:

Everyone is nervous before testifying. Publicly speaking the truth of your experience against a violent crime is a heroic and powerful thing to do. It's natural to be nervous. And even more so because you were the direct victim of the crime, and because as a victim of rape or domestic violence, you probably knew the accused well and at some time trusted and maybe loved him. You're testifying not only against violence, but against human betrayal too.

One of the best ways to start calming your anxieties is by appreciating that power and worth of your testimony. Your testimony is the pivotal force for setting things right against the crime that took place, both for you and for your community. Even if your testimony doesn't lead to a conviction, the truth you tell, just by having spoken it in a court of law, is a good and permanent part of the healing power of justice, and a way to heal your own feelings too.

Because of the great value of your testimony to society, there are hundreds of courtroom rules to protect you and your story while you are testifying. There are rules that protect you from inflammatory, prejudicial remarks, from unfair questions and distortions, and from irrelevant attempts to undermine your truth. Strict laws also make it a crime for anyone to try to dissuade you from testifying or to try to influence your testimony in any way. If anyone attempts to influence what you will say in court, you should report it right away to the police or prosecutors working your case.

The court has also been given strong authority by the community to act forcefully on your truth; enough power that in responding to your testimony, the court can stop the wrong in its tracks. And more. By its authority, the court in response to your testimony can deliver a strong public warning to all who would think to behave like this again, and a far-reaching message of hope for all who are still trapped in the wrongs of rape, domestic violence and child abuse. The courtroom isn't perfect yet, especially for victims of violence against women and children. But remember, thousands of women and children before you, by their own willingness to testify against this violence, have strengthened the courtroom stage for you.

So one of the best things you can do for your nervousness before testifying is to take great pride and dignity in the good you are doing for yourself, for your community, and for all the women who will come after you.

Here are some other things that should help you too.

Learn as much as possible about the case. Before testifying, you should try to find out: What are the exact charges in the case? What is the purpose of the hearing at which you are about to testify? What are the names of the prosecutor, the police officer or detective, the names of the defense attorney and the judge? Is there a victim advocate assigned to your case? If not, ask for one. Do you have an assigned time to meet with the prosecutor before testifying? If not, call ahead and ask for a meeting. Has the prosecutor offered any deals to the accused? What is the deal, and what does it mean? And you should have a chance to get answers to all the specific questions you have, like What happens if...if I can't remember something, if the defense brings up my driving record, if the court finds out I'm an undocumented immigrant, if the accused lies about me, if he sends a friend out to get me, etc.?

The best places to get the answers to these and other questions are from the District Attorney's office, from victim advocates, or from the detective or police officer who investigated your case. Before calling or meeting with officials, it's a very good idea to write down all your questions and comments you have in a notebook. Confusion is a big source of anxiety. Getting your questions fully answered is an excellent help for your fears.

Another thing that can be very helpful is if the prosecutor or a victim advocate can take you on a tour of a courtroom before you have to testify.

Arrive early at the courthouse. And be prepared to wait! It often happens that a number of cases are scheduled in the same courtroom for the same time. The order in which the cases will be called is unpredictable. And that can be very exasperating, especially if you're already nervous to begin with.

Bring enjoyable things to do while you way. Bring things like magazines, word puzzles, or a walkman, and try very hard not to bring children. Best of all, bring a friend or two. Not only can a friend help you through the waiting periods, but if you wish, you have a right to have your friends in meetings with you and the prosecutor and in the courtroom with you when you testify, including if that person is a witness in the case.

The Prosecutor will Protect and Facilitate Your Testimony. One of the biggest worries many people have before testifying is that they imagine sitting in front of the courtroom faced with the nearly impossible task of trying to make a logical story out of what has been a traumatic and chaotic event. The reality is, you don't have to worry about this at all. That's not your job. It's the prosecutor's job. (The prosecutor is also known as the deputy district attorney or the assistant district attorney.)

The prosecutor's overall role in the case is to bring the charges against the accused, and to prove the charges "beyond a reasonable doubt". As the victim of the crime, you are the prosecutor's main witness. That's why once you begin to testify, the prosecutor is going to do everything possible to make you feel at ease, to help you move through the story comfortably and logically, and to help you highlight the main points of your experience. And when the defense attorney begins asking you questions, the prosecutor will be listening to protect you and your testimony from any unfair line of questioning.

Your testimony in the courtroom begins with the prosecutor asking you questions. Most prosecutors begin slowly by asking you a number of simple questions, such as asking you your name, where you live, how long you lived there, etc. The prosecutor does this until he or she sees that you're comfortable, and that the questions and answers have settled into an easy back and forth. Then, in the same tone of short, simple questions, the prosecutor will lead you on a logical, step by step, progression through the events of the crime. All you have to do is listen carefully to the prosecutor's questions, and one by one, answer the questions honestly, simply, and clearly. During your testimony, the prosecutor is not going to try to trick you, confuse you, or make you look bad.*(see note below)

Court- Certified Interpreters are Highly Qualified, and Will Translate Your Testimony Word for Word. If you feel more comfortable speaking in your native language, and almost everyone does, ask the court for an interpreter. Court-certified interpreters are among the most highly trained interpreters in the world. Almost always, you can relax in the confidence that your words and meaning are being very carefully and accurately translated to the court. If at any time you have doubt about the translation of a particular point, motion to the interpreter who will be sitting right beside you, and repeat and explain your thought in another way.

The Pause that Refreshes. Take as Many as You Like. One of the things that happens when you're nervous is that the sensation of time gets warped. Sometimes it seems that time is speeded up, sometimes it seems like moments last forever. If you purposely take brief pauses, this puts you right back in control of time. Take a couple of deep breaths, rest your eyes on a part of the courtroom where nothing is happening, take a sip of water, look at your friend, take a moment to think about your answer, a little bit here and a little there, and you'll begin to relax and feel in control. Another good time to take a moment for yourself is when the attorneys are arguing over each other's objections to questions that have been asked. You can listen if you like, but because the discussion pertains to a question of law, it doesn't require your participation, and it's a good time to take another, all-important, pause that refreshes.

And if at some point you're feeling overwhelmed, you can always turn to the judge or the prosecutor and ask for a ten-minute break. It's not at all unusual for a witness to do this, so don't be timid about asking. In fact, any time while you're on the stand, you can ask the attorneys to repeat questions, you can (and should) tell them immediately if you don't understand a question, and you can turn to the judge and ask if you have to answer a particular question. If a question is especially embarrassing to you, or painful, you can preface your answer by saying "It's embarrassing to talk about this..." If you don't remember something exactly, it's important for you to say that too. "I don't remember exactly, but it seemed like it was about fifteen minutes."

Don't Let the Defense Attorney Get to You. He or She Is Just Doing Their Job. And You're NOT on Trial! The defense attorney's questioning of you will follow the prosecutor's questions. A good defense attorney will probe your testimony to make sure you're telling the truth. That's the defense attorney's job, and it's an important one. If you think about it, this cross examination of your testimony by the defense attorney helps create the strong public confidence in the decisions made by the court based on your testimony. So don't get rattled when the defense attorney questions what you had to say. Whenever possible give honest, short, yes- no answers to defense questions. If you have to give an explanation, try as much as is true to explain things in terms of what the accused did wrong to you. A victim that restates the accused's crimes in response to a defense attorney's questions, is going to strongly discourage the defense from getting out of line.

Once a defense attorney sees that you're telling the basic truth about what happened, some, not all, will then go on to fish for other kinds of weaknesses in your testifying. They may look for tiny contradictions, such as "ten minutes ago you said it was a blue shirt, now you say it was green." Whatever you do, don't get upset. When the defense attorney gets down to harping on minor details, that just shows the defense attorney is desperate. Most people who are telling a true story will, at one point or another, have minor contradictions in the telling. So correct whatever you need to correct, give a brief explanation only if necessary. Say you're not sure, if you're not sure. But whatever you do, don't get upset. That will only encourage the defense to do this more and more.

And always remember, the prosecutor is there to stop any unfair questioning by the defense attorney. The prosecutor does this by saying to the judge, "I object." So don't panic. Slow down, and give the prosecutor time to object. In fact, look directly at the prosecutor if you feel like you're being harassed by the defense. And if you think the prosecutor is missing it, ask the judge directly, "Do I have to answer that question"?

Another thing defense attorneys sometimes do when they know you're telling the truth, is to try and confuse you into saying something you don't mean to say by tangling many thoughts together. If you feel confused, just don't answer the question. Say out loud that you're confused. And keep saying you're confused until the defense attorney figures out that you're just plain not going to answer confusing questions.

You Are Not On Trial! One other thing desperate defense attorneys do, and by far the most difficult for victims to handle, is that the defense attorney may ask you questions about something they believe you feel guilty about. Often the accused, because he knows you well, has helped the attorney put together a list of these things. You had an affair, you're on probation, you were using drugs, you're in the country illegally, etc. Almost always, the defense attorney is not allowed to bring these things up in court because, you're not on trial! But that doesn't mean defense attorneys won't try to sneak these questions in, for one reason only, in hopes that he or she can get you to act guilty and defensive on the stand.

So here's what to do about all things that you're afraid might come up in the court, and that are eating at you, and making you fearful of testifying. Make a list of the worst things you can imagine, ask the prosecutor or a victim advocate ahead of time, "What will happen if they bring this up?" Most of the time the prosecutor or advocate will tell you that the defense can't bring these things into the proceedings, and that the prosecutor will put an immediate stop to it if the defense even goes near it. If for any reason, however, one or the other negative things about you is relevant to the court, then the prosecutor or advocate can remind you of this, "Just tell the truth, and remember, you're not on trial." "Yes, I lied to the police about using drugs, because I didn't think the police would believe me about the rape if I told them I was using drugs." And don't forget, don't get upset. Slow down. And give the prosecutor time to object.

Defense Tactics Are Nothing But Small Rocks Over Which Your River of Truth will Continue to Flow. And this is the perfect time to doubly remind yourself of what's most important of all. By testifying in a court of law against the crimes of rape, domestic violence, or child abuse, you are performing a most essential and heroic civic task for keeping your community safe. No one in the world is perfect. And knowing ahead of time that the defense attorney might try to dig at one or the other of your imperfections, only makes your willingness to testify more admirable. So hold onto the pride and dignity that you so greatly deserve. And any defense tactics attempting to undermine you will be nothing but small rocks over which your river of truth will continue to flow.

* A note on the prosecutor. It is true that while you're testifying, the prosecutor is going to be doing everything possible to protect you. At the same time, it's important to remind you that the prosecutor is not your attorney. The prosecutor is the people's attorney. And there may very well be times in the case, when the prosecutor is not acting in your interests, or may be acting directly against your interests. This may especially occur at the charging of the case, or in the plea bargaining phase. The prosecutor may be willing to undercharge, or "give the case away" for far less than is just, or for much less than the evidence can prove. So before you accept or agree to the prosecutor' handling of these aspects of the case, talk with victim advocates or other officials about your concerns.

Feel free to photocopy and distribute this information as long as you keep the credit and text intact.
Copyright © Marie De Santis,
Women's Justice Center
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Last edited by Willowbaby65; 12-03-2010 at 04:18 PM..
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Old 12-03-2010, 06:56 PM
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Educating yourself, eh!? Good girl!
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Old 12-04-2010, 01:11 AM
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1. dress: wear something comfortable, but appropriate for the circumstances. Do not wear a skirt if you're not used to it. Do not wear a really short skirt or low cut top as you really want everybody paying attention to what you're saying, not how you look. Also, courthouses can be drafty places, and sometimes they're over air conditioned in one room and overheated in another. Dress in layers so that you can be comfortable. Oh, and since you'll probably be going through a metal detector like everybody else entering a courthouse, reduce the amount of metal on your person - steel toed shoes, reinforced heels, underwires, belts, watches, and everything can set those things off. If you go see the court before the hearing or trial, make a test run through the metal detector to see if you set it off.

2. If you don't know something, say you don't know. Do not guess. "I don't know" is a perfectly legitimate answer. Most people feel compelled to answer yes/no questions with yes or no, but you can tie yourself into a corner by guessing when you don't know.

3. When the Defense attorney is asking questions, take a breath before answering. This gives the Prosecution a chance to object BEFORE your answer gets into the record.

4. Remember, the Defense attorney is trying to get you to look bad. If you get all defensive and angry when s/he starts questioning you, you're just playing into his hands. Instead of taking the questions as personal, just take them as a person doing his/her job. Answer them straight, or as straight as you can. If you start losing control and getting angry, ask for a break so you can compose yourself.

Court in larger jurisdictions may have courthouse daycares. Call well before your court date to see if childcare is available, and what the requirements are.

Have support there with you, outside the courtroom and inside, if possible. It helps to have a familiar, supportive, encouraging face in a courtroom full of strangers and your abuser.

When you go to court to testify, you are doing it for you. Don't get vested in the outcome. Too often, witnesses think they did bad, or did something wrong, or that they weren't believed just because the outcome wasn't what they wanted. That's not true. Flaws in the case can be technical. Just because you didn't get the outcome you wanted doesn't mean you weren't heard, or believed. Remember, the Court process is independent of you. You are there to have somebody hear you. If you get up in court and take the witness stand and testify, you are being heard. Always give yourself credit for that. Never take credit for the State's failure if the outcome isn't what you hoped for.
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Old 12-04-2010, 02:38 PM
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I was too scared of going through with it. I backed down, cause I believed he was in shock of what he had done to cause this fight. Now, I 'm having second thoughts just because he is close to comming home and I know it could happed again. What can I do?
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Old 12-04-2010, 03:42 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Quietrainstorm View Post
I was too scared of going through with it. I backed down, cause I believed he was in shock of what he had done to cause this fight. Now, I 'm having second thoughts just because he is close to comming home and I know it could happed again. What can I do?
1. get an order of protection. if he's in prison because of the DV, then they are pretty much status quo, and no contact will probably become part of his parole requirements.

2. go to a domestic violence agency. They can help you with counseling so you don't have to be afraid, let you know what the laws are in your jurisdiction, and help you with all of these issues.

3. don't beat yourself up for not testifying. Whether you can or not depends on where you are with your healing. For some people, testifying causes more psychological trauma, too soon for them to deal with it. It's best to know your limitations, and work on yourself, and your issues involving the trauma.
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Old 12-09-2010, 04:08 PM
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Thanks for your expert input Yourself. It's much appreciated. I was just wondering if there are any other subtle Victim Do/Don'ts you've seen first hand affect testimony during trials and/or during depositions? i.e.--I was warned by the DA that by the time victims reach the stand they become "robotic" i.e. unemotional. (I'm taking that as meaning a DON'T).
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Old 12-11-2010, 08:18 PM
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Well now, my crash course in the legal system is growing in leaps and bounds as of late and I'm absolutely compelled to share this experience with those of us completely naive about court room politics. It's a nasty little piece of judicial FYI that totally blindsided me during my abuser's last court appearance. Shocking, but funny all at the same time.

Last week, I noticed one of my Ex's middle aged female public defenders seemed noticeably more physically "affectionate" with him than usual while they stood in front of the Judge. There she stood, a court appointed professional, holding hands with him, gentle caressing his arm while she spoke to the Judge, rubbing his back, and even reaching up to stroke and pat his head like a dog a couple of times. All this occurred in front of a packed courtroom! I couldn't decide whether I was shocked,
appalled,disgusted,confused or thoroughly entertained. My very first thought was that she had obviously fell victim to his charming psychopathic personality and that he must have laid it on thick so she'd be as compliant and helpful to him as possible.

I tried to nonchalantly go back to reading my book, but it was like trying to ignore a train wreck. Expecting a barrage heavy petting breaking out at any moment, I maliciously toyed with the visualization of her finding herself victim #4 ,sitting in my exact spot waiting to testify against him. Irregardless of the strange pre-mating ritual everything seemed to turned out just as expected, another long continuance, but I still wondered about the possibilities. Was this some kind of intimidate-the-victim head game? Was the PD expecting me to react in some negative way in open court?

It wasn't until hours afterward I was recalling the PD's odd public display to a friend who informed me that all the touchy-feelly theatrics is a routinely used strategy criminal defense attorneys use to "humanize" offenders with particularly violent charges in order to help their defendants appear less dangerous to the Judge. LOL!! How revolting is THAT?? Glad I didn't choose a law degree. I don't think I could stomach having to be all lovey dovey with the really bad guys.
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Old 01-09-2011, 06:45 AM
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I recently found another way to help speed things up by total accident:

Although my Victim's Advocate has told me I'm not required to come to any of my abuser's court appearances unless I am specifically requested to, I just wanted to stress the importance of being there in court if you are physically, mentally and emotionally able to do so.

So far there's been five separate incidences during court proceedings when the Judge had a question or the Prosecutor needed to consult with me right then and there. During the last court date my abuser's public defender asked for a plea bargain and the prosecutor was able to walk right over to where I was sitting and request a conference during the proceedings so we could discuss the possibilities in a private room next to the courtroom. This was not the first time an occurrence like this had happened and I was extremely thankful I was in attendance since I found out later that had I not been there the prosecutor would have asked for a continuance in order to "discuss things with the victim" (or so I've been "assured" and in all honesty, and I'm not so "assured" that was the truth). Due to overloaded felony court dockets, continuances around here run from anywhere between 2-6 months which could drag out everything indefinitely. Worst case scenario would be that the Prosecutor (by his own admittance), could do whatever he wanted without consulting me at all since I am only a State Witness.

By being present, I feel more confident that my voice remains heard and my physical presence serves as a reminder to the Court that I'm a human being and not just a case number. Food for thought.
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Old 06-04-2017, 11:06 PM
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I wonder what is going to happen with my case. They postponed and the DA told me that they need time to discuss a plea or take it to trial. I want to know why is my case taking longer and will they even need me at any point.
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Old 06-06-2017, 10:53 AM
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They may need you if they go to trial. If he takes a plea, then not so likely. But you would still be able to make a victim impact statement, if you choose. That would not be a plea for the judge to go lightly on him, but on what the impact of his behavior has been on you.
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