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.
Eyewitness testimony 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.
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.
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.