Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Do I Gotta Come?

This is the most frequent question I hear. It comes from victims, witnesses, and yes police officers. It's on my voicemail, it's over the phone, and it's in person.

This question is especially pervasive in the teenage population, which has become my specialty in recent years. Here's how it normally goes after I answer the phone:

Me: District Attorney's Office

Witness: Someone dropped some paper at my house, telling me to call [the name of the big boss because his name appears on the subpoena].

Me: What's your name?

W: I ain't comin' to court.

Me: Okay, but what's your name?

W: I'm not testifyin' against no one.

Me: Okay, but who are you?

W: Why you want to know?

Me: I need to know who I'm speaking with so I can tell you what is going on.

A long pause.

W: John Smith. I ain't comin to no court.

Me: John Smith. What you have in your hands is called a subpoena. It is the court telling you that you must come. If you don't show up when it tells you, the court will issue a warrant for your arrest.


Me: You still there.

W: Why do I gotta come? Don't you have my statement?

Me: Yes.

W: Why can't you use that? Why did I give that statement?

Me: Why don't you want to come?

W: I've got school (or work, or childcare, or they inform me I don't know what it's like on the streets).

Me: Okay. Well, tell you what. Why don't you come down and see me tomorrow. There won't be any testifying. You're just going to meet me in my office and we'll talk about the entire process. You can tell me what I can do to help you then.

W: Tomorrow. What time? I've got school (or work, childcare, etc.)

Me: Whatever time works for you.

W: Okay. I'll be there tomorrow at 2.

I've found that there are two keys to convincing someone to testify: 1) Face to face conversations, and 2) listening to their problems and finding solutions. It is the social work part of the job, and one that becomes more necessary every year. Attorneys must be able to ask questions, but we must be able to listen too.


  1. I find this to be the case for many things--people want to be heard, they want to feel like someone's listening.

    I guess the logical follow-up is, how many of these people still don't show up?

    1. Over 95% come voluntarily. It is rare that we need to get a warrant.