Criminal Law

The Role of a Witness in a Criminal Trial

A criminal proceeding often involves the use of witness testimony. A witness is someone who takes the stand in a courtroom to give testimony for either the prosecution or the defense. This testimony may be related to specific events. It may also pertain to specific knowledge an "expert" witness has.

A Witness Must Be Truthful

If you are called as a witness, you will take an oath to be honest before you testify. You must place a hand on the Bible and swear to tell the truth. Witness testimony is recorded by a court reporter, and a record of this testimony is kept by the court. If the court determines that you lied under oath, you could be charged with perjury. Perjury is a crime and the penalties are severe. If you commit perjury, you could be fined, imprisoned - or both.

The Defense and Prosecution Can Call Witnesses

The prosecution can call you to testify as a witness. The prosecution will be able to ask questions of you in court while you're under oath. Then the defense gets its chance. This follow-up questioning is called cross-examination. The defense can call its own witnesses, and the prosecution will be able to cross-examine the defense witnesses. The side that calls the witness will question the witness first.

Laws Vary on Spousal Testimony

Generally, a spouse in a marriage cannot be required to testify against the other spouse. This is called "spousal privilege." These laws are designed to protect marital communications between spouses. State law on this point varies, however. Some states do allow one spouse to testify against the other, while other states allow this only if the other spouse agrees to it. Spousal privilege may even extend to divorced couples, if the testimony relates to communications that occurred while the couple was still married.

Witness May Be Asked to Give Testimony Outside of Court

If you are a witness, you may have to give testimony prior to the trial. "Discovery" is a process that allows lawyers to discover or learn of all the evidence that may affect the case.

Lawyers are given the chance to interview witnesses before the trial. This type of testimony is called a "deposition." It often takes place in the lawyer's office. Deposition testimony is recorded in writing and sometimes on videotape. You will be under oath in a deposition just as you would be inside the courtroom.

A Criminal Law Lawyer Can Help

The law surrounding witness testimony in a criminal case is complicated. Plus, the facts of each case are unique. This article provides a brief, general introduction to the topic. For more detailed, specific information, please contact a criminal law lawyer.

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