Can a victim choose not to testify?

Imagine I am a victim of a crime such as a madman shooting up a church that I’m attending.

If I don’t want to testify at a criminal trial, so I have to?

Unless you have a privilege you can claim, yes, you can be supoenaed and your testimony can be compelled. As a practical matter, though, prosecutors really, really don’t like having witnesses testify that really, really don’t want to.

I think when you’re forced, they call you a “hostile witness,” correct??

Yes, if you’re both forced and noncompliant. Anytime you’re subpoenaed you’re technically forced to appear, but most people who are subpoenaed will testify willingly once they get there. If they’re forced to testify and do so belligerently or don’t comply with questioning, counsel can ask to treat them as a hostile witness and ask them leading questions as though they were a witness for the other side.

The defence counsel can call the victim to testify over the prosecutor’s objections.

As the question’s been answered, I bring you an anecdote:

I saw a tv program about a retrial once. The man in question had apparently been convicted of murder, and the victim’s (adult) children had witnessed the murder. After his conviction, the man appealed and was granted a new trial. During the time his case was on appeal, however, the victim’s daughter had a change of heart about the penal system (and in particular the death penalty) and no longer felt comfortable assisting the state in putting a man to death.

She was called to testify regardless, and told the complete and utter truth about what had happened. She did so, however, in such a fashion (unemotional, as I recall, such that the jury didn’t really feel the enormity of the crime) that the jury didn’t give the guy the death penalty.

So as pravnik notes, adverse witnesses can be really bad for the prosecution.

Unless I’m misremembering, the victim at the recent R. Kelly trial didn’t testify.

I saw that. The dead guy was a preacher and this woman fought to have his sentence commuted to life, based on her feelings on the death penalty. The perp nearly killed her, too.

Yes, true (absent any privilege not to testify, of course). I say prosecutor because 99% of the time it’s the prosecutor calling the vic…I mean, the “complaining witness.”

One thing I find interesting about your example is that it’s one where you wouldn’t be just the victim. You’d also be a witness to the victimization of others. So regardless of the legal issue (which has already been answered quite well by other posters), there’d be a strong moral obligation for you to testify because of what happened to others during the incident.

In our office, we have something called a “non-prosecution affidavit”. When a victim doesn’t want to pursue charges and doesn’t want to be called to testify, we have them come in (always without the accused present, so we can be sure it’s not coerced) and talk to our crime victim coordinator. If they’re sincere about not wanting to pursue charges, we’ll ask them to sign the affidavit, which we then notarize. With so many cases moving through, it’s good to have a record of the victim’s wishes. Besides, if the victim were to later claim that we didn’t pursue the case vigorously enough, we’d have proof that they’d asked us not to.

And sometimes, although we don’t dismiss family violence cases regardless of the victim’s request, signing the affidavit can sometimes help them out with their abusive spouse. They’ll be able to say, “I went down and asked them to dismiss it and signed the paper, that’s all I can do!” and maybe the abuser will lighten up on them a little. Maybe. We hope.

Kato Kaelin (sp?) of OJ Simpson fame comes to mind. He definitely had witnessed some incriminating actions on OJ’s part but didn’t want to spill the beans to the jury. I recall the prosecution declaring him as a “hostile witness”.