This page has important information for people who have been requested by the prosecuting attorney's office to appear and testify at a hearing. These hearings can include trials, probation violation hearings, restitution hearings or other types of hearings.
Witnesses are a critical part of the criminal justice system. Prosecutors are unable to convict many criminals without the cooperation of witnesses. The prosecutor's office depends on witnesses to provide the information needed to prove their case.
WHAT TO EXPECT AND WHAT TO DO
How You Know You Are Supposed To Attend A Hearing
The prosecutor's office has subpoenas issued to direct certain witnesses to attend hearings. These subpoenas are served on witnesses by the Sheriff's Office. Some witnesses will be notified that they need to attend a hearing either by receiving a phone call or a letter from the Prosecutor's Office.
If you receive a subpoena make sure you keep it. It contains valuable information, such as the case to which the subpoena applies, when the hearing is and where to go.
Where To Go And When
A subpoena states when and where the witness needs to appear for the court hearing. If the person is contacted by phone or letter, the staff member from the prosecutor's office who made contact with the witness will notify them of the time and place to appear.
Witnesses need to report to the prosecutor's office upon arriving at the courthouse and prior to going to the courtroom. Checking in with the prosecutor's office first is important for several reasons. These reasons include the fact that sometimes the courtroom the hearing is scheduled to be in will change without any ability to advise the witness before they leave for court.
The prosecutor's office is located on the second floor of the courthouse. If you come up the main stairs in the center of the building, the prosecutor's office is to the right at the far end of the building. If you come from the main parking lot and got to the second floor by using the small staircase at the south end of the building, the prosecutor's office is located at the opposite end of the building. If you used the elevator in the center of the building, the prosecutor's office is to the left at the far end of the building.
Bring The Subpoena To The Courthouse
Witnesses should bring their subpoena with them to the courthouse. The subpoena needs to be presented to the prosecutor's office in order to arrange for the witness to be reimbursed for their travel and get paid their witness fee.
Consider Bringing Something To Do
Witnesses should consider bringing something to do in case there is a delay in testifying. For various reasons, court hearings may not begin at the exact time indicated on the subpoena. Furthermore, a witness may have to wait while other witnesses testify in the same case.
Meeting With Prosecutors Prior To The Hearing
Unfortunately, the prosecutors do not have time to contact and talk to every witness prior to issuance of a subpoena or prior to the hearing date. If you have questions about the subpoena contact the prosecutor's office as soon as possible. The name of the prosecutor handling the case will be listed on the subpoena. Please try to have your subpoena available when you call.
The prosecutor's office will attempt to meet with you prior to the hearing. At most hearings, the prosecutor may be discussing a possible resolution to the case with the defense attorney immediately prior to and all the way up until the time the hearing starts. For that reason, please contact the prosecutor handling the case as soon as you know you have a question to avoid the possibility of not having enough time getting your questions answered.
Who Will Be In The Courtroom
Everyone has a right to be in the courtroom unless excluded by the presiding judge. The reasons judges typically exclude people from the courtroom is if they are going to be witnesses during the hearing or if the person is being disruptive to the proceedings.
Reimbursement For Mileage And Witness Fee
Witnesses who have been issued a subpoena in a criminal case are paid for their travel to attend court hearings and a witness fee, if the witness testifies, of $8. When the witness checks in at the prosecutor's office they will be asked by the secretary handling the case how many miles they had to travel to attend the hearing. The secretary will record the mileage on the subpoena and turn it into the clerk's office for payment. (If the witness needs to retain their copy of the subpoena, for work or otherwise, the prosecutor's office will make a copy of the subpoena to turn into the court).
The clerk's office will then send out the mileage reimbursement/witness fee check to the witness. Witnesses are paid for one-way travel at a standard rate of $0.31 per mile. It can take anywhere from 30 to 60 days for the witness to receive the reimbursement check.
Failure To Appear (Or Obey A Subpoena)
It is considered a contempt of court for a witness to ignore a subpoena and fail to appear. The court can fine or jail the witness for contempt of court. In addition, the judge can require the witness to pay the costs of the parties or the court which are caused by the failure of the witness to attend the hearing.
If the witness is important enough to the case, the prosecutor's office can request that the court order the witness to post a bond or sit in jail as a material witness until they have testified pursuant to Idaho Code 19-821, Idaho Code 19-823 and
Idaho Criminal Rule 46.1.
If You Have Questions
If there are any questions that you have that are not answered by this web site, please contact the prosecutor's office as soon as possible.
PREPARING TO TESTIFY
Many people are, naturally, nervous about testifying. The prosecutor's office will work with the witness to address any concerns the witness may have. Either the prosecutor or secretary handling the case will discuss testifying with the witness. If requested, the office staff will walk the witness through the courtroom and familiarize them with the court process and procedures. Visiting the courthouse and becoming familiar with the surroundings can go a long way towards calming nerves on the day of the hearing.
In some cases, especially cases involving children witnesses, the prosecuting attorney will meet with the witness in the courtroom to prepare them to testify. This may or may not include asking questions about the actual event to which the witness will testify.
If you are having trouble remembering things, contact the prosecutor's office. The office can provide the witness with a copy of any witness statement they may have made.
Avoid talking to other witnesses about what they saw, heard, etc. This opens up the witnesses to accusations of making up a false version or collaborating to get their stories "straight."
Tell the truth.
It is the duty of a witness to tell the truth, whether or not it is advantageous to the prosecutor's case.
Listen carefully to the question asked.
Don't make decisions about what the question is asking before the attorney finishes asking it. You may be mistaken about what the question is really asking. This may leave you looking like you are subsequently changing your answer and subject you to trying to explain your inappropriate answer for the next several minutes.
Do not volunteer information that you are not asked to give.
Witnesses frequently start volunteering information because they are trying to tell the entire story as they know it. Try to remember that testifying is not like the type of conversations we have in normal, every-day life. Testifying is a process of being asked a question on a specific topic and giving an answer to that question. The attorney will have a strategy regarding the information that they are trying to get out and at what point in the questioning they want the information given. This strategy usually involves considerations of keeping the case simple and the timing of bringing in certain testimony. You may be highly destructive to this strategy if you are more interested in telling everything you want to get out, rather than answering the questions the lawyer is asking.
Witnesses that constantly volunteer information they are not asked to provide frequently come across as biased for one side. If you volunteer a lot of information that you are not asked, you may come across as unbelievable or fabricating facts to help "your" side.
In addition, the rules governing the admission of evidence may prohibit the jury from hearing the type of information you want to volunteer. This problem creates a high likelihood of having the opposing attorney object to the volunteered testimony. This can result in a prolonged discussion between the court and the lawyers which will, in turn, cause the jury to forget the important information you were asked to testify about. It may also hurt the jury's opinion of you since the judge will end up warning you to only answer the question asked.
Do not guess.
Guessing is an open invitation to an attorney to bend your testimony and your credibility into a pretzel. You may only testify about facts of which you have personal knowledge. If the attorney can point out to the jury that you were guessing about even one fact, the jury may believe that you did not really witness the other things you testified about with the same degree of believability they did before the answer in which you guessed. If you recognize that the attorney is asking you to guess at an answer, say that you don't know, that you would have to guess. The jury will understand and respect this answer.
Do not be afraid of correcting a mistake.
If you realize you made a mistake in your testimony, say so. If you change your testimony, one or both of the attorneys are going to ask you why you are changing your answer. That is your opportunity to explain the mistake. Pointing problems out when you realize a mistake has been made is less severe in the jury's mind than a mistake that is obviously not the truth, which is left uncorrected.
This is much like volunteering information. However, people that do this tend to be nervous and want to chit chat about different things to make the questioning more casual. The best thing to do if you think you are rambling is to focus on the lawyer asking the questions during the pause between questions. Let the jury ponder the answer you just gave rather than get lost in the unimportant rambling that come between your last answer the next question.
Remember to be dignified at all times.
Keep your composure, regardless of how frustrating or infuriating the questions are or the questioning attorney acts. You will lose credibility with the jury if you lower yourself to becoming verbally combative or confrontational with the lawyer. Remember, the jury sees and hears what is going on. They know when the question is offensive, unreasonable, or dumb, or when the attorney is being unfair to a witness. Disruptive or combative behavior from the witness does not earn points with the jury.
When the attorney makes an objection, quit talking. Even if it is in the middle of a sentence. Let the lawyers and the judge work out the problem. You will then be instructed to answer the question or not to answer the question. If you have forgotten the question, let the judge know that you have forgotten the question and ask if it can be repeated. The judge will always comply with your request.
Ask for a Break.
If you need a break ask for one. Chances are, someone else needs one too.
If you don't know the answer to the question, say so.
When a witness doesn't know the answer to a question or cannot remember the answer, they should say so. Do not guess. Do not testify to facts to which you are not sure.
If you don't understand the question, ask for a clarification.
If you don't understand the question, you are guessing at what the attorney wants. If you don't understand the question and provide an answer anyway, you are guessing about what answer to give. As discussed above, your chances of giving a fool-proof answer disappears, sometimes entirely, if you guess about what the question is supposed to be asking. Solve this problem by telling the lawyer you don't understand the question. They will ask it again. Chances are, the jury didn't understand the question either and they appreciate you doing them the favor of bringing the problem out.
PROBLEMS WITH EMPLOYMENT AND SCHEDULING CONFLICTS
If a witness is having problems with their employer or with a scheduling conflict, they should contact the prosecutor's office immediately
HARASSMENT AND INTIMIDATION OF WITNESSES
Idaho Code 18-2604 makes intimidating or harassing a witness a crime. If you are a witness who is being harassed or intimidated about testifying in a criminal matter or know a witness who is being harassed or intimidated, please contact the law enforcement agency that investigated the case that the witness is testifying in and/or the prosecuting attorney's office as soon as possible.
CRIMINAL CODES DEALING WITH WITNESSES, TESTIMONY AND EVIDENCED
Below are some of the criminal codes involving witnesses.
18-2601 FALSIFYING EVIDENCE -- OFFERING FORGED OR FRAUDULENT DOCUMENTS IN EVIDENCE
18-2602 PREPARING FALSE EVIDENCE
18-2603 DESTRUCTION, ALTERATION OR CONCEALMENT OF EVIDENCE
18-2604 INTIMIDATING A WITNESS
18-2605 BRIBING WITNESSES
18-2606 RECEIVING OF BRIBE BY WITNESS