Family: How to Represent Yourself at a Domestic Violence Hearing
Authored By: Legal Aid of North Carolina
What will happen at the hearing? +
- When your case is called you will go to the front of the courtroom. The bailiff should show you where to stand or sit.
- You (the victim) go first. You will take the stand and be sworn in. You will testify.
Tips for your direct testimony +
- The judge usually will not lead or question you. You need to be prepared to start on your own. Start with your name and relationship with the defendant.
- Focus on the most recent incident of domestic violence (usually the one detailed on your Complaint). State the date(s) and tell what happened.
- Focus on what the defendant did. If he/she hit you, describe how (i.e. fist, open handed, with object). Describe injuries, if any, and present pictures if available.
- If the incident involves a threat, tell the judge whether you believed the threat and why (i.e. he/she did it before). Depending on the judge, you may be able to describe the last incident of domestic violence before this most recent one.
- If children were present, explain how they were involved or affected. If they were in danger, tell the judge what you did to protect them.
- At the end of your story, tell the judge what you want the order to do.
Defendant can cross-examine you and your witnesses +
When you are done with your direct testimony, the defendant can cross-examine you. You must answer his/her questions unless you object and the judge says that you do not have to answer. Questions should be relevant to the case.
If you have witnesses, you will put them on, one-by-one, and question them. You do not have to have other witnesses. The judge usually limits witnesses to people present at the most recent incident, but sometimes the judge will allow others. It is within the judge’s discretion which witnesses to allow. Since you are acting as your own attorney, you will need to be prepared to question the witness . Start by asking their name and how they know you and the defendant, then go into their specific testimony.
The defendant can cross-examine your witnesses. If you do not feel the question is appropriate or relevant, you may object. Then the judge will decide whether the witness must answer the question.
Defendant will put on his/her case +
The defendant will put on his/her case, much the same way you did. The defendant may testify if desired, and can put on witnesses.
You can cross-examine the defendant and/or any witnesses he/she brings. You do not have to ask questions if you do not want to.
Tips for Cross-Examination +
- Do not argue with the defendant, even if the defendant is trying to argue with you.
- Only ask questions. Do not make statements (for example, "What you just said isn’t true and you know it," is not a question and would be inappropriate).
- Ask questions with a purpose in mind.
- It is usually best to ask questions that you know the defendant cannot lie about. Remember that the defendant will not agree with you, so you should not try to get them to agree.