TESTIFYING IN COURT
Being a victim or a witness to a crime is often a traumatic and
stressful experience. Many victims and witnesses
feel a resurgence of fear and stress when told they have
to testify in court. Although many criminal cases
are settled before trial, some are not. If you have been subpoenaed or asked to
testify, court personnel feel you have significant information about the crime.
Preparation does much to alleviate the fear and stress, and it
will also help you to organize your thoughts so that you be able
to communicate your knowledge about the case credibly and
truthfully. This page will help you become familiar with terms
you may hear during the judicial process, give you
general tips on testifying, and give you a general
timeline of a case from arrest to sentencing.
Changes in court appearances and dates often occur.
Keep in contact with Victim Services so that they may
notify you of any changes or developments. Pennington
Victim Services work closely with the County
Attorney's Office to see that victims receive all the support
and information they need. Let us know how we can be of
further help to you.
DISTRICT COURT PROCEDURE
- INITIAL APPEARANCE
hours. Formally charged. Bail is set.
Public defender appointed if indigent.
- FIRST APPEARANCE
(Rule 8 hearing) Usually 1-4 weeks after
- OMNIBUS HEARING
1-4 weeks after first
appearance. Probable cause is determined.
- ATTORNEY/VICTIM or WITNESS CONFERENCE
1-4 weeks after
omnibus. Discuss possible plea negotiations.
(May have occurred at
omnibus hearing) 1-4 weeks before trial.
- ATTORNEY VICTIM/WITNESS CONFERENCE
(Trial preparation) 1-3 weeks before trial.
Usually 1-3 months after not guilty plea.
About 10 weeks after guilty plea or verdict.
- ACQUITTAL: A legal judgment that
the accused is not guilt of the crime.
- CONVICTION: A legal decision that
the defendant is guild of the crime.
- DISMISSAL WITH PREJUDICE: A
decision by a judicial officer to end a case for
legal or other reasons.
- DISPOSITION: The final judicial
decision which ends a criminal proceeding.
- FELONY: A serious crime for which
punishment is imprisonment for one or more years.
- MISDEMEANOR: A crime for which the
maximum punishment is usually local confinement for
one year or less.
- OMNIBUS HEARING: A hearing where a
judge decides what evidence may be used, and where
these is enough evidence to go to trial. A
guilty plea may be entered, and the defendant may be
sentenced or a pre-sentence investigation ordered.
- PLEA AGREEMENT / NEGOTIATIONS: An
agreement between state and the defendant wherein
the defendant agrees to plead guilty under certain
terms and conditions.
- PRE-SENTENCE INVESTIGATION (PSI):
Usually conducted by a probation officer before
sentencing to enable the judge to know more about
the defendant's criminal and personal background.
- PROBABLE CAUSE: The degree of proof
needed to arrest and begin prosecution.
- PROBATION: Conditional freedom
granted with requirements set and supervised by the
- PROSECUTOR: The lawyer who
represents the state (and the victim), in a criminal
- REPARATION: Financial compensation
for crime victims who have been physically or
- RESTITUTION: Court ordered payment
made by the defendant as reimbursement for monetary
losses incurred as a result of the crime.
- SUBPOENA: A court order requiring a
person to appear in court and give testimony.
- SENTENCING: Judge's final decision
on the penalty the defendant should serve.
The sentence must fall within the boundaries of
state law / Minnesota sentencing guidelines.
- TRIAL: Prosecutor and defense
attorney present their cases before a judge or jury.
The prosecutor must prove the defendant guilty
beyond a reasonable doubt.
- VICTIM IMPACT STATEMENT: A
Statement given by the victim which details how the
crime has affected them, and what sentence they
think would be appropriate.
- Attend attorney/victim pre-trial conference.
- Review written or taped statements.
- Dress conservatively.
- Speak Clearly.
- State answer truthfully and accurately.
- Think before you speak.
- Correct wrong or unclear answers immediately.
- Be polite, serious, and even-tempered.
- Say "I do not know" if you do not know .
- Memorize or rehearse exactly.
- Chew gum or cover your mouth with your hands.
- Be sarcastic or exaggerate.
- Interrupt the judge or anyone else.
- Swear, unless you are repeating the exact works
of someone else.