Victims Services - Court How To


How to testify in court


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

  • Within 48 hours.  Formally charged.  Bail is set.  Public defender appointed if indigent.
  • FIRST APPEARANCE

  • (Rule 8 hearing) Usually 1-4 weeks after initial appearance.
  • 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.
  • PLEA

  • (May have occurred at omnibus hearing) 1-4 weeks before trial.
  • ATTORNEY VICTIM/WITNESS CONFERENCE

  • (Trial preparation) 1-3 weeks before trial.
  • TRIAL

  • Usually 1-3 months after not guilty plea.
  • SENTENCING

  • About 10 weeks after guilty plea or verdict.

GLOSSARY

  • 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 court.
  • PROSECUTOR:  The lawyer who represents the state (and the victim), in a criminal case.
  • REPARATION:  Financial compensation for crime victims who have been physically or emotionally injured.
  • 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.

GUIDELINES:

DO:

  • 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.  STAY CALM.
  • Say "I do not know" if you do not know .

DO NOT:

  • 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.