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What is a Witness Stand?

By Christy Bieber
Updated May 16, 2024
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A witness stand is the location in the court room where witnesses sit or stand to give testimony. In many jurisdictions, the stand is to the left of the judge's position in the front of the court room, although this position can vary depending on the country or even the size of the courtroom in some cases. The witness stand is usually located in the front of the court room so that the judge and jury, if present, can see and hear the witnesses as they give testimony.

In a court case, many different types of evidence are presented. The selection of evidence varies depending on the type of case in the court, and the specific issue being prosecuted. For example, in a criminal case, the various forms of evidence are all designed to demonstrate that the defendant committed a crime.

Testimony from witnesses is one type of evidence that is used in many court cases. Witness testimony can be used in both civil and criminal cases. This means witness testimony can be used when a prosecutor prosecutes a crime, or when one individual sues another.

When a witness gives testimony, he or she generally gives a deposition to the attorneys in the case prior to taking the witness stand. This deposition both enables the attorneys to frame their cases, and serves as a check to ensure that the witness's story does not change, and that his or her depiction of the facts is accurate.

After a witness gives a deposition, the attorneys can determine whether or not to call that witness at a trial. If the witness is going to be called at trial, his or her name is put on a witness list that is submitted to the court by the relevant attorney. For the most part, a witness cannot be called unless he or she is on the witness list, although there are some exceptions to this rule if a witness is uncovered late in the trial.

When a witness is called, in most jurisdictions, the witness must appear in court; in the US, the Constitution entitles a person the right to question someone who is testifying against them. When the witness appears in court, he or she is sworn in and then takes a seat in the witness stand.

The attorneys direct and address questions to the witness while the witness is sitting in the witness stand. The judge or jury observes the witnesses response, issued from the witness stand, to determine if they believe the witness or if they feel the witness is credible.

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Discussion Comments

By mrwormy — On Jan 09, 2015

@Inaventu- You were fortunate enough to only testify at a civil trial. I got called as a witness in a criminal trial years ago. I got a call from a criminal attorney representing a man charged with murder. He turned out to be a former neighbor of mine, and I had a pretty good relationship with him. The defense wanted to refute some prosecution witnesses who said he was always a violent person and had choked his wife several times during the time he was my neighbor.

I was carefully coached by the defense attorney about how to react on the witness stand. I honestly couldn't recall any incidents of violence from that time, and I met his wife several times. She didn't appear to be a victim of domestic violence. I was strongly urged to stick to that story and not let the prosecutor badger me into telling stories about other incidents of bad behavior. There was something about sitting in the witness stand that put the fear of God into me, though.

I was told not to elaborate, but I felt like I needed to answer the prosecutor's questions thoroughly. No, I wasn't around the defendant 24 hours a day and I didn't ask his wife any questions about their true relationship. I was just a friendly neighbor and I thought he was a decent person at the time.

By Inaventu — On Jan 08, 2015

I had to take the witness stand one time in a civil case. A man I helped with his karaoke business was suing his former employers for retroactive benefits from an accident at work. The company contended that he was not truly disabled, because a private investigator followed him around the karaoke circuit and filmed him lifting heavy speakers and dancing with women during his shows.

I had to testify that I was the one who did all of the heavy lifting during those gigs, and I never saw him bend at the waist when he danced. The thing I didn't realize about being a witness was that I had to stay outside while every other witness testified on the stand. I couldn't know what other people had said, so I couldn't change my testimony to fit theirs. There was a lot of "hurry up and wait" going on, since some witnesses took longer than expected. I couldn't leave the courthouse, nor could I talk about the case with other people.

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