Witness Assistance

Things to Remember as a Witness

1. Always tell the truth.

Tell the truth - no matter who it helps or who it hurts. 

2. Prepare

Refresh your memory so you can avoid confusion. Before testifying, picture the scene and what happened in as much detail as you can remember.

3. Dress appropriately

Court rules require witnesses to dress appropriately. Hats, tank tops and clothing with profanity are not allowed. Dress as if you were going to church or a job interview. 

4. Be courteous and calm

Anger reduces your believability as a witness. Stay calm and in control, even if an attorney seems rude. Your words will be given the greatest weight if you treat both attorneys with the same business-like courtesy, even if an attorney appears rude to you.

5. Focus and be alert

If you appear bored or uninterested, the judge or jury may tend to disregard your testimony. 

6. Speak clearly and loudly

Everyone in the courtroom must be able to clearly hear and understand what you have to say. If your voice is too soft or hard to understand, some people may think that you are uncertain or confused. Speak up and speak clearly - what you know may be more important than you realize!

7. Be accurate

Do not exaggerate or try to help either side. Justice will be best served if your testimony is truthful and accurate. 

8. Be helpful, not funny

Court is serious and important. Justice is at stake. Justice requires facts, not humor. 

9. Answer questions carefully

  • Listen carefully to the question and take a breath to think about your answer.
  • Answer the question asked - then stop.
  • If you DO NOT know the answer to the question, say so. 
  • If you DO know the answer to a question, state your answer confidently. Do not let anyone twist it or get you to back away from it. It is YOUR testimony and YOUR oath, not the lawyer's.
  • If your question requires you to estimate (such as a distance or a time) and you DO estimate, be clear that your answer is an estimate and not an absolute fact. 
  • Do not try to answer a confusing question. Ask that the confusing question be re-stated.
  • Do not argue with the attorneys.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a subpoena?

A subpoena is a court order requiring a witness to appear at a specific time and place to answer questions under oath. Bring your subpoena with you when you appear. A witness who fails to appear on a subpoena can be found in contempt of court. If you change your address or phone number after receiving a subpoena, please contact our office at the phone number provided on the subpoena or 515-286-3737.

If you get a subpoena from the Polk County Attorney's Office, please plan to arrive 30 minutes before the time on the subpoena.

What is a deposition?

Serious crimes sometimes require that witnesses are issued a subpoena for a sworn interview which is called a deposition. Unlike a trial, a deposition does not involve a jury or a judge but the questions and answers are all sworn and recorded. If you get a subpoena, it does not matter if it is for a hearing, trial, or deposition, it is important that you obey the court order.

What happens if I do not appear at the time and place specified on the subpoena?

Failure to appear in district court constitutes a contempt of court, which could possibly result in a warrant issued for your arrest, a fine up to $500, or imprisonment of up to six months.

I have received a subpoena, who can I call if I have questions?

The Assistant County Attorney assigned to the case or their Legal Assistant. There will be a phone number listed at the bottom of your subpoena - call that number to speak with them directly. If there is no number, contact 515-286-3737.

I have been subpoenaed to appear in court, but I cannot get off work. What do I do?

Your employer is required by State law to allow you to testify in court, as long as you have a court ordered subpoena. If your employer refuses to allow you time to testify, immediately call the prosecutor listed on your subpoena. 

Will the defendant be there when I testify?

Yes. The defendant has a constitutional right to face their accuser and will be present for all court proceedings. 

I am a witness in a case, and I have moved recently. Who should I notify of my new address?

If you move or change your phone number, immediately contact the Assistant County Attorney or Legal Assistant on the phone number listed on the subpoena. If you cannot get ahold of anyone at that number, contact the front desk at 515-286-3737.

Do I get compensated for appearing to testify?

You are entitled to $5.00 for each half day and $10.00 for each full day you appear to testify. There may be a mileage allowance for witnesses. After your appearance, a member of the County Attorney's Office will write the total mileage on your subpoena and ask the judge to sign it. You may take your subpoena to the Criminal Clerk of Court for compensation.

I am a witness in a case and I am being threatened or harassed. What do I do?

Tampering with witnesses and harassment are crimes. Contact the local police department and the Assistant County Attorney assigned to your case.