Most cases in the United States are determined by a grand jury. The jury can call a witness to testify in the case they are deliberating if they so please.
They will typically issue you a subpoena that will direct you on when to appear and testify in front of the grand jury. Prosecutors can also get a subpoena from the court asking a witness to come and testify.
You may be called to testify in front of a grand jury if the prosecutor thinks that you can help their case. They may also call you because they see you as a target who could help them make their case.
You should know that any testimony offered by a witness in front of a grand jury can be used later in a prosecution. Therefore, it is crucial to know what to do when called to testify in front of a grand jury.
The following are helpful tips:
Tell the Truth
One thing you should always do when called to testify in front of a grand jury is, to tell the truth. You will be required to take an oath before testifying where you will affirm that you will say the truth.
If it is discovered that you lied on the stand, you will have committed perjury which is a serious crime punishable by up to five years of prison time plus fines.
The key is to readily admit every key fact and answer that you can remember. Any hesitation implies that you are hiding something from the court.
Answer quickly and precisely whenever you are asked a question.
The subpoena to testify in front of the grand jury will arrive weeks before you are due to appear in court. It should give you enough time to prepare yourself for the testimony.
You should take some time to sit down and think clearly about the incident to which you are being asked to testify. The more you can remember, the easier it will be to recall the facts when asked in court.
You should especially be certain of the facts that you plan to present to the court. If you are not sure about the facts, clearly state that it is an estimate; otherwise, a prosecutor will use it to their advantage.
Although you should prepare for the case, you should not rehearse what you are going to say. Doing so is a surefire way to make your testimony appear fake which the prosecutors will certainly test.
When asked to respond to a question, speak in your own words. Be as concise and as natural in your speech as you can possibly be and your testimony will be credible.
You should also avoid any distracting mannerisms you may have when testifying in court. Such mannerisms may include chewing gum, fidgeting, or unwarranted gestures. They will prevent you from presenting your testimony clearly.
The grand jury should clearly hear and understand everything you say.
Don’t Talk to Jurors or Speak About the Case outside the Courtroom
When you are called to testify in front of a grand jury, you should know that everything that happens in the court is absolutely confidential. Discussing the case with anyone outside the courtroom might have serious repercussions.
You will probably be around the jurors and other court officials outside of the courtroom. However, you need to give them the space to conduct a federal grand jury investigation. Only without bias can they make the right conclusion.
Your interactions with jurors outside the courtroom will influence their perception of you. In the end, they might be biased against you which can lead to a wrongful conviction.
You should dress sharply when you are called to testify in front of a grand jury. Though there is no dress code in a courtroom and there are varying definitions of dressing well, you should try and adhere to formal clothing in this regard.
The key is to dress in a manner that shows obvious respect to the court proceedings. Therefore, even if you think that you are neatly dressed, if you distract the grand jury and others in the courtroom, you may be asked to leave.
You need to adhere to the restrictions of the court for example not wearing a hat. You should dress in a way that helps the grand jury pay close attention to everything you say.
Do Not Guess or Exaggerate
When you are asked to testify in front of a grand jury, you should never exaggerate or guess anything. You should only present the court with facts that will help them deliberate on the case.
You should not make broad statements but you can mention close estimates if you are certain. Your answers should be as definitive as possible so you should avoid phrases like ‘in my opinion’ or ‘I believe’.
If you cannot remember certain details about a scenario, don’t guess and instead just say that you cannot remember. Ask for clarification if you don’t understand a question so you don’t make up an answer that can be misconstrued.
Answer Only Asked Questions
When you are called to testify in front of a grand jury, you will be questioned by both the prosecutor and the defendant’s attorney. You should only answer the questions they ask and no more.
You should never voluntarily present information for which there has been no query. When answering the questions, get to the point and answer them as honestly and plainly as possible. Yes and no are the two words you should use the most.
If you don’t understand a question, immediately ask for it to be repeated or clarified. If your answer is also vague, clarify it immediately. The key to correctly answering questions in front of a grand jury is to stick to the facts.
There are many more tips I could give you about what to do when called to testify in front of a grand jury. You should know that you might not be allowed counsel so it is up to you to act appropriately. The tips above should help you cover the basics and do well the next time you are asked to testify.