Your job as a witness in a lawsuit is very important. As witness you
must tell the truth. A witness who knowingly does not tell the truth
could be subject to criminal prosecution and if convicted could face
The lawyer calling you as a witness or other lawyers involved in the case may talk about the case with you before the trial. It is the lawyer’s job to try to find out what you know about the case and explain courtroom procedures to you. However, you do not have to talk to the lawyer before the trial if you do not want to.
In some lawsuits, one of the parties may want your testimony under oath before trial. The taking and recording of a testimony before the actual trial is called a deposition, usually conducted in the office of one of the lawyers. A word-for-word transcript is made of the deposition. A deposition helps each party in the lawsuit prepare his or her case. In some cases, the evidence in the deposition encourages the parties to settle the lawsuit before the trial.
During a trial, a lawyer may object to a question that you are asked. If that happens, stop talking immediately. If the judge overrules the objection, you may then answer the question. If the judge sustains the objection, you may not answer.
If you feel that your answer — at a trial or a deposition — could connect you with the commission of a crime, you have a constitutional right to refuse to answer that question and may talk with your lawyer before answering the question. If you cannot afford to hire a lawyer, the court may provide one at no cost to you to advise you regarding answering the question.
Legal editor: Tracy A. Prall, May 2008
Updated September 2011