Seen on the Scene: Types of Witnesses in Criminal Cases

Judges GavelA criminal trial requires a great volume of legwork. On the defendant’s side, the defense attorney prepares the accused and the things essential for winning the case. The prosecution, on the other hand, does the same. Typically, the prosecution doubles their effort, as they have the burden of proof.

Regardless of the side, one of the initial steps in preparing for a criminal trial is finding and talking to witnesses. The Center for Legal Studies notes that this is a crucial phase, as the statement of a witness can be critical evidence that leads to an indictment or sets a person free.

Witnesses are broadly grouped into three categories:

Lay Witness

A lay witness is technically any person who provides the court with testimony. Lay witnesses may also be called eyewitnesses if they personally witnessed certain events upfront and can describe them in court. The statements of the lay witnesses should be limited to facts, but they may provide opinion statements.

The Federal Rules of Evidence allows a person to give testimony in the form of an opinion as long as it is rationally based on the witness’s perception, helps provide a clearer understanding of the witness’s testimony, or if the opinion is not based on scientific, technical or other specialized knowledge within the scope of FRE’s Rule 702.

Expert Witness

Either side can call in an expert witness if some of the case’s circumstances are beyond the knowledge of the judge and the jury. Statements usually come from professionals, such as doctors, psychologists, handwriting experts, and forensic experts.

Character Witness

Character witnesses are called in to provide evidence of the good and moral character of the accused or the victim. They are usually friends, family, or neighbors of the accused or the victim. The Federal Rules of Evidence allows character witnesses to testify and give opinions.

These are the three general types of witnesses. It is important to note that each state has its own rules on admitting and cross-examining witnesses.