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Definition - What does Witness mean?

A witness is a person who provides evidentiary testimony for a civil or criminal case. Witnesses can provide evidence to bolster the case for the defendant or the plaintiff.

In a personal injury case if it is a witness for the plaintiff their evidence should establish that the defendant’s actions contributed or caused the accident, while a witness for the defense should undermine the evidence provided by the plaintiff.

Who calls a witness?

Witnesses which are required to provide testimony in court will be called as a witness for either the defendant or the plaintiff. They will be sworn in by the court and will answer questions by both parties through direct examination and cross examination. Testimony provided by the witness is used to credit or discredit the case.

Types of Witnesses

There are several types of witnesses, including eye witnesses and expert witnesses, who may provide testimony in a civil or criminal court case.

If a person is called as an eye witness they will be asked to provide testimony to the court about events they have actually seen or witnessed. Unfortunately, eye witness testimony can be unreliable, and it is not unusual for multiple eye witnesses to provide differing accounts of the same event. In fact, criminal investigations are often complicated by the failure of eye witnesses to accurately recall events.

According to the Innocence Project, “Eyewitness misidentification is the single greatest cause of wrongful convictions nationwide, playing a role in more than 75% of convictions overturned through DNA testing."

Another type of witness is the expert witness. These witnesses have not actually witnessed an event, but they can be asked to provide information that an average person would not know and cannot testify to. Common types of expert witnesses can include forensic experts, psychologists, and doctors.

In some personal injury claims, such as a medical malpractice case, expert testimony can be critical to the case.

Calling a Witness

Persons can be called to testify as a witness in a criminal or civil case through a subpoena or a witness summons. This is not a voluntary request. If you fail to appear in court at the proper time and place after you have received a summons to appear you can be arrested and jailed for contempt of court.

If you are called as an eye witness and incur expenses, in some cases, you may be compensated. For example, in a civil claim you may be entitled to compensation for your time by the party who losses the case. Expert witnesses are also paid for their time and for all work provided to the court.

What information will I have to provide as a witness?

Witnesses may be required to provide information to the court prior to trial through a deposition, which is an out-of-court oral testimony. The deposition is obtained during the discovery process, which allows both parties to gather information in preparation for trial.


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