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What Is Witness Testimony?

A case's star witness may be the person whose testimony is critical to deciding its outcome.
Witness testimony is given in a legal proceeding.
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  • Written By: Jodee Redmond
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 03 April 2014
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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.

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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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