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What is Witness Testimony?

By Jodee Redmond
Updated May 16, 2024
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In legal matters, witness testimony is given by a person who has knowledge about the case. The witness is asked questions by attorneys for both parties and must answer them truthfully. A person who is giving witness testimony may have personally witnessed an event or be giving information about a person's character. Some people asked to participate in a court proceeding are called to give testimony due to their expertise on a particular subject.

When witness testimony is being given by a person who saw an accident or other event occur, that individual is known as an eyewitness. He or she can answer questions about the event in question, but the answers are limited to what the eyewitness personally saw, heard or experienced. While it may seem as though eyewitness testimony is reliable in court, the opposite is true. For example, the person who is being asked to identify the person who committed a crime may be mistaken. Someone who was involved in an accident or was the victim of a crime may not be entirely reliable because of the amount of stress existing at the time of the event.

Witness testimony being given by someone who is making a statement about a person's character must be considered in light of the individual's relationship with them. The character witness can only attest to what he or she has personally observed about the person's conduct and character. A teacher or work supervisor may be a more convincing character witness than a long-time friend, even though the friend may have a closer relationship with the individual. The friend's witness testimony may be challenged because a lawyer could argue that the friend is more likely to make statements to protect the person in question.

Experts provide a different kind of witness testimony than an eyewitness or a character witness. A doctor, scientist, or other individual with a certain level of expertise may be asked to provide evidence in court. A doctor may be asked to provide medical evidence about an accident victim's injuries and prognosis for recovery. In other types of cases, a forensic expert will be asked to testify about testing that he or she conducted and the results that were found.

In each case where witness testimony is given, the witness will meet with the lawyer who requested their presence in court to go over their testimony. Witness preparation helps the person understand what will happen during the proceedings and be ready for the types of questions he or she will be asked. Giving evidence in court can be nerve-wracking and being well-prepared will help the witness feel a bit more comfortable.

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Discussion Comments
By turquoise — On Apr 29, 2014

I would like to be an expert witness one day. Expert witness testimony can be very important for a case, especially if there isn't a lot of evidence or if there aren't eyewitnesses. Experts can shed light on a situation or case with their knowledge and expertise. Many cases have been solved thanks to expert witness testimony.

By ZipLine — On Apr 29, 2014

@ysmina-- This is true to some extent, but I don't think that it is applicable to all eyewitnesses and all cases. It depends on different factors. Someone who saw their friend shot and killed right in front of their eyes and who had actually spoken face to face with the shooter beforehand is probably not going to get the details wrong. But an eyewitness who saw something from a distance and who does not personally know those involved may confuse some of the details. It also depends how well an eyewitness copes with stress and how he or she reacts in stressful situations.

I'm not expert on this topic but this is my opinion. We can't say that eyewitness testimony is unreliable or inaccurate just because there are few examples where things have gone wrong.

By ysmina — On Apr 28, 2014

Thanks to crime and courtroom shows on TV, everyone now knows the basics of a criminal court proceeding, including witness testimony.

I was watching one such show the other day and the topic of discussion was inaccurate testimonies given by eyewitnesses. The experts on the show were saying that eyewitnesses often remember the details of an incident incorrectly because of trauma and stress. For example, they may remember the car at the place of the incident to be a different color. Or they may remember the appearance of the criminal different than it is.

I used to think that eyewitness testimony is the most reliable as well, because these people were there and saw everything first hand. But clearly this is not the case. It's surprising and also interesting.

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