Female witness giving testimony in a criminal case with Judge in the background looking on.

Three Types of Witness Testimony in a Criminal Case

Female witness giving testimony in a criminal case with Judge in the background looking on.

 Eyewitness, character, and expert witness testimony are the three types of witness testimony in a criminal trial. Witness testimony is a form of evidence. The judge or jury reviews this evidence along with other available pieces of evidence when determining a case. As such, knowing the type of witness testimony required in your criminal case is an essential part of preparing for a trial and building an effective defense strategy. 

What Is a Witness Testimony?

Witness testimony is a written or oral statement provided by an individual who has relevant information about a case. The individual testifies under oath or affidavit in a trial or other legal proceedings. Lawyers for both sides ask the witness questions about the case. The witness must answer those questions honestly.

An individual who is providing witness testimony may have seen the event in person or could be a victim of that event. He or she could also be providing information regarding the defendant’s character. Some individuals may give testimony because of their knowledge and professional experience in a specific subject. 

Witnesses in a criminal case usually meet with the attorney who asked for their participation. The attorney reviews the testimony with the witness and guides the witness on what to expect during the proceedings. The attorney also guides the witness on how to respond to questions during cross-examination. 

Is Witness Testimony Evidence? 

Witness testimony is a form of evidence. In fact, it is sometimes the only evidence that a judge or jury considers when determining a case. The law considers whatever a person under oath in court says to be credible unless the other party successfully challenges it. 

The other party can use testimony, physical evidence, or cross-examination to cast doubt on the credibility of the witness testimony. The judge then rules on the credibility of the testimony after considering the facts, evidence, and arguments presented. 

There are three types of witnesses that may be called to testify in court for the defense or prosecution in a criminal case. Witnesses can provide important evidence, expert knowledge, and character assessments of a defendant.

The Impact of Witness Testimony

In court trials, witnesses are key components of a case and can help prove the innocence or guilt of a defendant. In criminal and civil cases, witnesses are often summoned to testify in court by a subpoena issued by the defense attorney or the prosecuting attorney. In criminal cases, there are three types of witnesses called to testify in a trial. These include eyewitnesses, expert witnesses, and character witnesses.

Eye Witnesses

Eyewitness testimonyMinneapolis Criminal Defense lawyer Max Keller provides strong evidence in a criminal trial. An eyewitness is someone who observes an alleged crime in progress, as well as perpetrators who participated in events of the crime. Although eyewitness testimony is sometimes determined unreliable due to questionable facts, it has a greater impact on a verdict than circumstantial evidence.

If several people witness a crime, criminal attorneys usually look for consistency in witness statements to validate important facts and evidence.

Eligibility Requirements for an Eyewitness 

An eyewitness must meet a couple of eligibility requirements. The witness must have the ability to grasp an oath or solemn affirmation fully. He or she must also have the capability to give evidence in the form of oral or written statements. 

A witness to a crime who cannot comprehend an oath or solemn affirmation because of mental condition or other viable reasons can still give testimony. He or she must, however, promise to be truthful. Witnesses aged 14 or younger must have the ability to understand and answer questions. They must also promise to provide truthful information. 

Expert Witnesses

Expert witnesses are called to provide professional knowledge on certain topics that are outside the ordinary knowledge of a jury or judge. Expert witnesses often include psychiatrists and psychologists, therapists, physicians, forensic scientists, and handwriting experts. Evidence provided by expert witnesses in a criminal case is accepted by the court as reliable testimony because it’s based on proven facts backed up by scientific research, published studies, and professional experience.

Eligibility Requirements of an Expert Witness 

An expert witness must satisfy more eligibility requirements than an ordinary witness. The witness must:

  • Be relevant to the case

  • Have sufficient academic qualifications and expertise in a specific subject

  • Be necessary to explain certain aspects of the case to the judge or jury

  • Not be barred from participating in the proceeding by any evidentiary rules. 

An expert witness is necessary when an objective and impartial opinion outside the scope of the judge’s or jury’s expertise and knowledge is required. Accident reconstruction, mental health, DNA evidence, data analysis, and injury causation are some areas that need expert witnesses. 

The judge is responsible for determining whether a proposed expert witness is competent and useful to the court. The judge bases this determination on the expert’s academic credentials, training, and professional experience. 

Character Witnesses

Character witnesses provide facts and assessments that address a defendant’s character. They are usually family members or people who know the defendant. In criminal trials, character witnesses are important to help establish a defendant’s history of behavior. Testimony from character witnesses is especially valuable when the defendant’s morality or honesty is in question, something that often comes up in cases of robbery, white-collar crimes, and fraud.

In a court trial, all witnesses take an oath to tell the truth. Witnesses who lie under oath face perjury charges. In Minnesota, people who commit perjury can face monetary fines up to $10,000 and prison sentences up to 5 years. Criminal charges are taken seriously in Minnesota, so people who lie on the stand face serious consequences under the law.

Eligibility Requirements for a Character Witness 

Character witnesses do not have any specific eligibility requirements. A person testifying to the criminal defendant’s character can only focus on the defendant’s reputation. 

A character witness usually starts by testifying to his or her credibility and reputation. Next, the witness describes the nature of his or her relationship with the defendant. The witness talks about the general standing of the defendant in society. The witness then testifies to the defendant’s reputation for a specific character trait. 

Working With a Knowledgeable Criminal Defense Lawyer 

A criminal defense lawyer with several years of working with all types of witnesses in criminal cases can help determine which witness will add value to your case. Of course, the lawyer will need to assess specific details of your case and available evidence to make this determination. 

Your defense lawyer can investigate the alleged offense and prosecution witness. The objective is to find proof that can discredit the prosecution witness’s testimony. Your lawyer can also identify and work with expert witnesses to prove your innocence or disprove forensic evidence presented by prosecutors. 

Your lawyer can leverage his or her understanding of criminal law and court processes to build a robust defense strategy. The lawyer can, for instance, use his or her knowledge of the 4th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution to determine whether the police performed a legal search. The lawyer can also identify and talk to prosecutors that are highly likely to offer you a favorable plea deal. 

Max Keller has won countless jury trial cases involving misdemeanors and felonies, sex crimes, and DWI’s. He is a member of the Minnesota Society for Criminal Justice, which only allows the top 50 criminal defense attorneys in the state as members. Max is a frequent speaker at CLE’s and is often asked for advice by other defense attorneys across Minnesota.

Years of Experience: Approx. 20 years
Minnesota Registration Status: Active
Bar & Court Admissions: State of Minnesota Minnesota State Court Minnesota Federal Court 8th Circuit Federal Court of Appeals State of Maryland

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