How to Listen to Testimony at a Criminal Trial

Witnesses in a criminal court of law are trustworthy. A citizen who listens to testimony has the responsibility to learn the truth from the witness, and nothing other than the truth. When an accused might be condemned, a citizen, whether serving as a juror or attending the trial as a member of the community, has to loyally attend to each word.


1. Trust the witness’ statements, as long as the meaning is relevant. Witnesses in an American court take an oath to tell the truth. Give each statement a serious consideration on how it bears on the question of guilt or innocence. Take notes on the facts that can decide the case.

2. Listen to the answers to questions asked by each side’s attorney with the knowledge the lawyer asks for evidence to advocate a case. The lawyer wants a statement to prove what his side says is true. Take the responses to the prosecutor as an answer to a question chosen to prove guilt. Give the credit to each answer to the defense attorney due to a persuasive effort to cause reasonable doubt.

3. Be wary of false statements. Remember that a lawyer is a zealous and loyal advocate for their client. A defense lawyer does not have the responsibility to determine the facts in the case. This responsibility belongs to the jury and judge. Disregard any false statement a witness makes.

If a judge determines a statement is false, listen carefully to the judge’s instructions. The judge will make sure the statement does not affect any judgment in the case. During the closing argument, the defense attorney will not include any false statement made during the trial.

4. Do not listen to hearsay. Testimony is supposed to tell the court what the witness on the stand knows to be true. Listen to the statements a witness makes on the facts seen or heard. But, disregard a statement that another person, the true witness, has told the testifier before the court.

The Sixth Amendment protects the right of the accused to confront the witnesses against them. When the true witness does not come to court, and a citizen who hears a statement from this true witness relays their statements of fact to the court, the accused does not have an opportunity to face the citizen who says the facts are true. Give the accused respect by listening to those citizens who are willing to come to court to testify.

5. Attend to the way the witness gives testimony, without qualifying any judgment on facts. In deciding whether a statement is truthful, use discretion on when to judge the witness’ dress, conduct and eye contact. Competence can be seen in a person who appears sure and clear. An orderly steadiness demonstrates the witness’ integrity and objectivity.

Keep in mind these appearances can support judgments on the statements, or cause some doubt, but do not outweigh these judgments. These demonstrations are helpful evidence, not direct evidence. First and foremost, count on the direct assessment of the honesty and reliability of the statement.


Be diligent in listening to testimony. Every word counts. A statement missed, or one poorly heard, can cause a wrong understanding of the testimony.


Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 26

False Testimony By A Defendant In A Criminal Case: What Do You Know And When Do You Know It?; Jane Rabe, Assistant Bar Counsel; June 2004 .

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