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What is a Fact Witness?

By Vanessa Harvey
Updated May 16, 2024
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A fact witness is an individual who possesses personal knowledge about an incident over which a lawsuit has ensued. Fact witnesses in the court system of the United States testify, under oath, about the events that took place in a particular case. They generally are expected to recite the facts that they personally know without interjecting their opinions. Generally, a fact witness is a layperson who was an eye witness to an incident such as a crime. He or she might also hold factual knowledge about the parties involved in a lawsuit.

The testimony of a fact witness differs from that of what is known as an expert witness. Expert witnesses are permitted and often encouraged to share with the court their professional opinion regarding the facts that are presented during court trials such as those that take place in criminal cases. For example, a medical doctor could be called as an expert witness during a malpractice suit. He or she could answer medical questions to which answers might help to establish guilt or innocence in the actions of the defendant. Unlike a fact witness, an expert witness can even be obligated to give his or her professional opinion, prognosis or diagnosis specifically relating to the case.

An expert witness is not necessarily disallowed from also giving testimony as a fact witness if he or she also holds personal knowledge about what occurred in a court case. There are times when a fact witness might also be legally declared a hostile witness if he or she takes the witness stand against his or her will. This could allow the defending and prosecuting attorneys to ask such a witness leading questions during cross examination. Even if a fact witness has expert-level knowledge about a particular subject that is significant to a case, he or she usually is not permitted to testify as such unless professional credentials have been earned. Attorneys in the United States are known to scrutinize the credentials held by expert witnesses.

In some nations such as the United States, fact witnesses could be entitled to monetary compensation for the time that they spend attending a trial. Financial assistance can be granted to cover travel expenses and lost wages. Fact witnesses should always be people who are credible, because their testimony can greatly influence a jury. The verdict of a jury that is misled can result in an innocent person being convicted or to the release of a guilty person back into society. This is one reason why attorneys tend to attack the credibility of a fact witness when they testify for the opposing party.

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Discussion Comments

By SarahGen — On Apr 29, 2014

Fact witnesses are compensated but as far as I know, it's minimum compensation, not competitive compensation. Expert witness really determine their own fees because their testimony is a part of their job rather than a duty.

By stoneMason — On Apr 29, 2014

Being an eye witness/fact witness is not easy. Another issue that some eye witnesses face is intimidation. They may be intimidated by one party of the case and pressured to change their testimony. It's a real problem in certain types of cases and also in some countries.

There are programs like the witness protection program but partaking in this program is easier said than done. Witnesses have to take new identities, move to a new place, start a new life and not contact their families and loved ones. It's very difficult and not everyone can do that. Of course, it's not an option in most cases either.

By ysmina — On Apr 28, 2014

People who have witnessed particularly traumatic events are usually scrutinized in court after they testify. It is known that eyewitnesses may remember some details of an incident incorrectly because of the stress they endured during the incident. For example, someone who witnessed someone being shot and killed can be very shaken by the event and may not remember what the criminal was wearing. He or she may remember the color of the criminal's clothes differently or perhaps his or her hairstyle.

So lawyers often use this to re-question a witness and if possible, make apparent any confusion that a fact witness may be experiencing over the event. If a fact witness admits that he is not sure about something, this can cause the jury to distrust that testimony. This can be a good thing or a bad thing.

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