What is Oral Testimony?

Keith Koons

Oral testimony is nothing more than giving a verbal statement to a regulatory figure or group of individuals, usually in order to provide dialogue regarding an event that occurred. For example, an employee may be called before a council to explain recent losses incurred by the organization, or a professional attending a seminar may be invited to share viewpoints with the rest of the group. Both of these incidents qualify as oral testimony, because they were given as an official statement in order to educate others. The other aspect of oral testimony usually requires that the speaker be truthful, which is why the court system requires witnesses to swear an oath to tell the truth.

Witnesses in a criminal trial offer oral testimony to the court.
Witnesses in a criminal trial offer oral testimony to the court.

Perhaps the most common place where oral testimony is used is within the judicial system and criminal law. Police officers, district attorneys, judges, and jurors all listen to testimony to decide the outcome of a trial, but before the court date is ever reached, dozens or even hundreds of statements are normally collected. Law enforcement will interview witnesses and request verbal statements that are often recorded, and then these conversations will be replayed for decision-makers while a case is being built. If the incident does in fact go to trial, the various witnesses will likely be asked to give testimony before a judge and the jurors.

Oral testimony is presented in court from the witness stand.
Oral testimony is presented in court from the witness stand.

Normally in proceedings where official oral testimony is being heard, the session will start with an introduction of the speaker and well as the other attendees within the room. A statement is often then given to the speaker regarding perjury, or the penalties involved for not being honest. That person will then usually be asked a number of simplistic questions to appear on the record—things like his current address, the position held within the company he works for, or his age and marital status are common. Once the official statement regarding the incident begins, the speaker is then allowed to share his recollection of the event in question.

By definition, oral testimony encompasses any event where the speaker’s main purpose is to educate the listeners. This means that professionals like teachers, news reporters, and various forms of coaches give testimony daily. In fact, sharing a story with a child or a group of children would also qualify as oral testimony, so a prerequisite is not so much who the listeners are as the quality and truthfulness of the dialogue being shared.

Judges listen to oral testimony to decide the outcome of a trial.
Judges listen to oral testimony to decide the outcome of a trial.

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Discussion Comments


@sunnySkys - I think you brought up a valid concern. I don't think we should completely do away with oral testimony though. I don't think the written word has quite the impact of testimony given in person.

I must admit I've never thought of oral testimony in any context besides the courtroom. I can see how teaching can be considered giving oral testimony though. As in the courtroom, the person giving the testimony is expected to tell the truth!


It seems to me that oral testimony is a huge part of our legal system. I know in most cases, witnesses are called to the stand to give an oral statement of what they saw. Also, sometimes expert witnesses are called to give oral testimony about some aspect of the crime or the evidence.

The one problem with oral testimony is that the jury can be influenced by the persons likability. I know we all like to think that we can be impartial, but really most people judge other people on their appearances and mannerisms all the time. I think it's a definitely possibility that a jury may discount true oral testimony given by someone who doesn't seem credible.

I think it might be a good idea to re-examine the validity of oral testimony in our legal system.

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