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.