A Lawyer Explains Testifying as a Witness

By Jonathan Dameron, Esq.

I’ve been called as a witness in a case. What can I expect? You should arrive at the Courthouse thirty minutes early. Be sure to allow sufficient time to pass through security and find the assigned courtroom. You will be asked to pass through a metal detector and should dress professionally. If you have been called as a witness in a case, you may want to consider talking to an attorney. Neither the Defense attorney nor prosecutor can advise or give you legal advice.

Will I have to stay in the Courthouse all day? You should not have to stay all day. You should speak to whoever called you to be a witness and they should be able to set expectations.

Can I go to jail if I don't go? If you are called to be a witness, the court can issue a subpoena that requires a witness to appear in court or risk arrest. In criminal cases, a witness may refuse to testify when doing so would implicate them in illegal activity under the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution. If you fail to honor a properly issued and served subpoena, the judge may hold you in contempt, resulting in a fine, imprisonment, or both.

What if I must work? If you have been subpoenaed and are unable to make it to court, there are several steps you should take. First, you should contact the defense attorney or prosecutor (whoever requested you appear). Phone numbers for the public defender, city prosecutor, and county prosecutor may be found on the Hamilton County court website within a document titled “Frequently Used Phone Numbers.” You will want to have the case number listed on the subpoena ready. If the case number which appears in the upper right-hand corner begins with a C, it will be handled by the County Prosecutor. Next, you should call the bailiff in the courtroom where you are scheduled to appear (can be found on the Hamilton County courts website titled "Court Hearing Information"). You should explain to the bailiff why you cannot be there. Last, you should send a relative or trusted friend to appear in court and explain why you cannot appear. Make sure they have the correct information as to where you are supposed to appear. Keep in mind, the judge decides how to handle each failure to appear individually.

 I'm afraid of testifying; what if the other person retaliates against me later? The Cincinnati Citizens Respect Our Witnesses (CCROW) witness support program provides a variety of services which may include transportation to court or a volunteer escort. Intimidation of a witness is a crime and may result in criminal prosecution if you feel unsafe. You can contact the CCROW program for additional referrals, resources, and support at 513-352-3542 or email Jennifer Mitsch or Karen Rumsey.

What if I accidentally say the wrong thing? If you say the wrong thing, you have a duty to correct the record. It is a crime to knowingly make a false statement under oath or affirmation, or knowingly swear or affirm the truth of a false statement previously made, whether the statement is material. Perjury is a felony of the third degree. Perjury is not a mistake or accident, but an intentional false statement. Whoever has called you to testify should give you some direction prior to testifying.

BIOGRAPHY: The attorney

Jonathan P. Dameron is a 1986 graduate from Northern Kentucky University. He went on to law school at Chase, graduated in 1991, and has been an attorney for thirty years. His practice includes criminal defense, domestic relations, and landlord-tenant law. In his spare time, Jon is a rock and roll star by the name of Jonny Dee.

A Lawyer Explains... is a collaboration between the Hamilton County Law Library and the Cincinnati Bar Association's Lawyer Referral Service. The information provided in this blog is not legal advice.