Present your case

At your trial, you may have the opportunity to testify: tell your story and make your case to the judge. You might also question a witness. You'll want the witness to tell the court what they know, but the only way you can get information out of a witness is by asking questions in specific ways that follow court rules. This is called direct examination.  

Give your testimony

When testifying yourself, you'll tell your side of the story emphasizing facts and details that help to prove your case. As you testify, the judge may interrupt you to ask questions to better understand your testimony. 

illustration of a clipboard with a checklist

Create an outline of what you plan to say

When you testify, it's easy to leave out important facts and details. To avoid forgetting important information, you can prepare an outline of your testimony with all of the facts you need the court to hear. It is helpful if the outline is in large type so you can glance at it quickly. Avoid reading your testimony.

The other side will cross-examine you 

After this, you will be able to briefly testify to clarify the points during cross-examination. 

On rare occasions, the court may require you to question yourself like any other witness. If the court requires this, use your outline to formulate the questions. Ask yourself the question, pause for a moment, and then answer. Handle the questioning just as you would any other witness. 

Direct examination of witnesses

Choose the order of your witnesses 

If you have more than one witness, you will need to choose the order they will testify. As a general rule, if you are testifying, you should testify either first to set up the overall story of the case, or last, to summarize the case and drive home the important points. 

Call your witness 

Witnesses will typically wait outside the courtroom until it is their turn to testify. Say to the judge, “I would like to call [full name of witness], as my [first, second, third, etc.] witness, your honor.”

Typically, the court attendant will then get the person and direct them to the witness stand. 

If you are calling yourself instead, say to the judge, “I would like to call myself to testify,” and ask whether the judge wishes you to testify from the bench or the witness stand. 

Question your witness 

If you are questioning a witness, you want the witness to tell the story of your case, but the only way you can get the story out is to ask the witness questions. It is helpful if you prepare an outline of the questions that you plan to ask the witness.

  • Begin by asking introductory questions

    Typically, you start by asking the witness their name, address, job, how they know you, etc. 

  • Next, ask foundational questions

    The next step is to ask questions that lay the foundation for the rest of the testimony. Usually, these are questions that explain how the witness has first-hand knowledge of what the witness will be testifying about. This is an important part of following rules of evidence and establishes the witness' ability to testify. 

  • Finally, ask the questions that will get your evidence into the record

    After you have introduced the witness and established they have personal knowledge of the facts they are testifying about, you may move onto specific pieces of evidence. If necessary, establish the foundation for the testimony or exhibit by asking questions that show the witness has personal knowledge of the facts the witness will testify about, or other specific foundational questions, and then proceed to the important questions. 

    Unlike cross-examination, you are not permitted to ask leading questions. 

    Once you have asked all of your questions, conclude by saying, “I have no further questions for this witness.

Respond to objections

If the other side or their attorney objects, the judge may immediately rule on the objection or may ask if you have a response. Respond to the objection if you feel it is incorrect, or else say that you will rephrase the question, and then proceed with your new question. 

The other side can cross-examine your witness 

Just as you had the opportunity to cross-examine the other side’s witnesses, the other side will have the opportunity to cross-examine your witnesses. During the cross-examination, raise objections as necessary, and take notes. You will have the opportunity to ask follow-up questions to help clarify what your witness meant. 

Redirect your witness

After cross examination, you will have the opportunity to briefly question the witness, or redirect.

If the witness is another person, you will have the opportunity to briefly re-examine the witness to help clarify what the witness meant, and if necessary undo any damage done during cross-examination. The other side will then have the opportunity to ask several more cross-examination questions before the testimony is done.