A subpoena is an order of the court requiring a person to appear in court at the stated time and place. You may receive your subpoena by mail or in person. You received the subpoena because a party in a case believes you have information. The law requires this information to be given in court under oath to ensure the prosecution and the accused have a fair and impartial trial. If you fail to appear in court or refuse to testify, the court has the power to issue a warrant for your arrest.
If for some reason you cannot come to court on the date and time indicated, it is important that you notify the prosecutor handling the case or Victim/Witness Assistance Program before the indicated court date. It is also necessary that you report any address or telephone number changes to victim/witness services immediately.
In some cases, the prosecutor handling the case or the defense attorney may put you “on call” so you can go to work or school on the day you are subpoenaed. You will be called at a pre-arranged telephone number an hour or more before you are needed in court. The “on call” system is a way of reducing the amount of time witnesses spend waiting to testify. To request “on call” status, call the telephone number on your subpoena.
The time spent while actually testifying depends upon many factors. The majority of your time in court will be spent waiting to testify.
Because unforeseeable problems can arise, cases are frequently continued and inconvenience for witnesses cannot be avoided. The case may not take place as scheduled for various reasons, including:
1) the defendant pleads guilty or
2) the case is rescheduled to another date. Your patience and commitment are essential to serving justice and are greatly appreciated.
Please arrange for child care if you have children. Court rules prohibit children in criminal courtrooms. The Victim/Witness Assistance Program may be able to assist you in providing for childcare. There are “Children’s Chambers” in some courthouses in Orange County. Please contact them prior to your court date to determine if your child is eligible.
You may be contacted by a prosecutor or a District Attorney Investigator for further interviews about the facts of the case. Sometimes the defense will also contact witnesses before the preliminary hearing or trial. You have the right to choose whether you speak to anyone about the case outside of court. If you are unsure to who you are speaking, ask for a business card and an explanation of their role in the case. You may wish to have a person of your choosing present or ask that the interview is recorded to avoid later misunderstandings or misquotations.
The Court or Jury Trial
A court or jury trial in a felony or misdemeanor case will ordinarily occur from one month to 12 months after the charges are filed. In some cases, it may take longer. In a misdemeanor case, your testimony will usually be required only during a trial. For felony cases, you may be required to testify at both the preliminary hearing and trial.
The Defense Attorney
In most cases, the defendant will be represented at the preliminary hearing or trial by an attorney. The defense attorney will question you after the prosecutor finishes questioning you during "direct examination." This is called “cross-examination.” They are entitled to ask you these questions, subject to “objections” by the prosecutor and the judge deciding whether the question is proper.
Whether a witness receives any witness fee is at the discretion of the court. A court may order that you receive witness fees (not to exceed $12 to 18 per day) plus reasonable and necessary expenses after testifying. It is the civic duty of all citizens to come to court and testify when subpoenaed as a witness to ensure a fair justice system.
Justice Center/Courthouse Information
There is free parking at Harbor, West, and North Justice Centers. At the Central Justice Center and the Lamoreaux Juvenile Justice Center, the Victim/Witness Assistance Program Office will validate your parking.
Friends or relatives may be allowed to sit in the courtroom while you testify unless they are also witnesses. Witnesses testify one at a time and generally wait outside the courtroom for their turn. A victim/Witness Advocate may also be with you, at your request.
The defendant must be present in court to hear what all witnesses say about him or her.
Filing Charges and Sentencing
Many people incorrectly believe a victim of crime has the power to "press charges" and "drop the charges" against a defendant. The OCDA prosecutes crimes on behalf of the State of California. How to proceed in any criminal prosecution will be made by a prosecutor with the approval of a judge. The victim's wishes will of course be considered, but the final determination of whether or not the charges will be filed or dismissed rests with the OCDA.
Tips on Testifying
- Tell the TRUTH. Listen carefully to the questions posed to you. Be sure you understand the question before you answer. Give an answer to the best of your ability and knowledge.
- Let the judge know if you do not understand the question. The judge will likely ask the attorney to rephrase the question so that you can understand.
- Do not guess or speculate. If you do not know the answer or you cannot remember, say so. If you give an estimate (such as with distance or time), indicate that your answer is only an estimate. Give positive, definitive answers when you clearly remember.
- Answer the question. Do not volunteer information unless you are specifically asked for it. You may explain your answer if you feel it is needed. If you make an error while testifying and later realize it, ask the court for permission to correct your error before you leave the witness stand. If you realize your error after you are excused from the witness stand, advise the Orange County District Attorney's Office as soon as possible.
- Dress appropriately, as if you're going to a job interview (dress shirt, slacks, sweater, conservative dress, blouse, skirt). Please do not wear a hat, shorts, tube tops, jeans, or flip flops.
- Speak loudly and clearly. There are a lot of people in the courtroom who need to hear your testimony. Please enunciate and answer “yes” or “no,” rather than “uh-huh” or nodding your head. Don’t be afraid to make eye contact with the jury while testifying. They want to hear what you have to say.
- Do not give opinions or beliefs about the case, and stick to telling the facts.