Testifying at court is a scary process if you’ve never done it before, or if you’ve never even been in a courtroom before. Many first time witnesses are nervous and experience anxiety. But if you familiarize yourself with the process and prepare yourself adequately, there is really nothing to fear.
Whenever you are testifying under oath, you are required to tell the truth, and that’s exactly what you should do. Lying under oath can get you into big trouble. That said, there are certain circumstances in which you may not be required to testify at trial, even if you are called as a witness.
Pleading the 5th
The popular phrase “I plead the 5th” is generally synonymous with “I’m not going to tell you anything.” This phrase has been beaten to death in TV shows and movies, but it does have constitutional roots. The Fifth Amendment allows a person to refrain from testifying if their testimony might incriminate themselves. In other words, you do not have to talk if your words will help the government bring criminal charges against you.
A person may also be given immunity as a witness. Immunity basically means that the government cannot use what you say to incriminate you. The caveat is that you are forced to provide testimony – you cannot plead the fifth. Immunity is generally achieved through a plea deal with a prosecutor and judge. If you are unsure whether or not you have immunity, talk to a defense attorney.
In fact, if you have any questions at all about your responsibilities as a witness, it is a good idea to speak with a legal professional.