Written documents filed with a court must follow court rules and state procedure codes. Personal statements are usually made as affidavits signed under penalty of perjury, although informal statements are sometimes permitted in actions like those in small claims court.
Written Statement to the Court
Every court action involves written documents presented by the parties to a case, including petitions, pleadings, motions and appeals. The required format, procedure and timing for filing these papers are set out in detail in the court's rules and in state codes of civil, criminal and appellate procedures.
Parties are generally not permitted to simply write out their arguments, opinions or version of the facts on a sheet of paper and submit it to the court. In most court proceedings, personal statements must be made in affidavit form, signed under penalty of perjury.
Read More: How to Write a Sworn Statement
Making a Statement in Court by Affidavit
An affidavit is a written statement to the court made under oath. Generally, you can write out an affidavit by hand, type it or print it. When a party or a witness to an action makes a written statement to the court, it usually must be presented in affidavit form. This means that the person making the statement sets out facts and swears that they are true under penalty of perjury. Penalty of perjury means that if the person is lying under oath, they can be prosecuted criminally for perjury.
The person making the affidavit can include facts, but not speculations or opinions. The statement can be based on matters that the person observed or experienced directly. In some states, it can also be based on "information and belief," which means information a person believes is true, although not based on firsthand knowledge. If you make statements on information and belief in an affidavit, you generally must identify them as such.
The person making the affidavit signs at the bottom of the statement under penalty of perjury. Some states require that you make an affidavit in front of a notary public. In that case, the notary administers the oath before you sign the affidavit, then sets the notary seal on your signature.
Informal Statement for the Court
In some court cases, judges allow witnesses and even parties to a court case to present informal written statements. For example, many small claims courts are informal proceedings where parties are allowed and even encouraged to use less formal procedures.
If you are writing an informal statement for the court, you still want to stick to the facts rather than offer personal opinions. Write clearly and concisely. Include all pertinent information, but only facts relevant to the case at hand. If you are not a party, explain your role or interest in the case and your relationship to a party. Don't forget to sign and date the statement.
- Contact the court district before finalizing the court statement, as some courts have a restriction regarding the statement length.
- Do not knowingly include false information within the declaration statement, as this is considered perjury.
Teo Spengler earned a JD from U.C. Berkeley Law School. As an Assistant Attorney General in Juneau, she practiced before the Alaska Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court before opening a plaintiff's personal injury practice in San Francisco. She holds both an MA and an MFA in English/writing and enjoys writing legal blogs and articles. Her work has appeared in numerous online publications including USA Today, Legal Zoom, eHow Business, Livestrong, SF Gate, Go Banking Rates, Arizona Central, Houston Chronicle, Navy Federal Credit Union, Pearson, Quicken.com, TurboTax.com, and numerous attorney websites. Spengler splits her time between the French Basque Country and Northern California.