IN GENERAL WITNESSES in criminal trials are required to attend court to give evidence on behalf of the prosecution.
This will happen if the witness has made a statement in writing to the police setting out what they saw or heard when the incident occurred.
For example, if a traffic accident takes place the police will interview everybody present to see what they remembered.
That statement that you make (if the details are important for the prosecution case) may mean that the prosecution later request that you attend court to give evidence about what you saw/heard.
In a criminal trial a person can
only be convicted if the judge or jury
is satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt
that they have committed the crime.
What is the responsibility of a Witness?
In general the responsibility of the witness is to give evidence on behalf of the prosecution. I say “in general” because sometimes witnesses are required to give evidence on behalf of the Defence. I’ll get back to that later.
The witness is required to enter the witness box. If they are a prosecution witness, they’ll be questioned first by the Prosecutor as to what they saw or heard. When this process is finished, they can be cross-examined by the Defence.
If the witness has made a statement that the Defendant completely disagrees with (which is quite common) then the defence lawyer will generally put their client’s version of events to the witness and ask them to comment on it.
Ideally the defence lawyer will be trying to get the witness to accept that they may have been mistaken or even completely wrong in what they saw.
There’s a perfectly good reason for this.
In a criminal trial a person can only be convicted if the judge or jury is satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt that they have committed the crime.
If a witness for the prosecution agrees that they may have been mistaken as to what they saw or heard or that their statement is not entirely accurate, this will almost certainly create a doubt in the court’s mind.
And as a defence lawyer that is all that you need. Once a doubt has been raised -and provided the doubt is a reasonable one- that will lead to the Defendant’s acquittal.
What is a witness for the defence?
A WITNESS FOR THE defence is someone who is called by the defendant to give evidence on their behalf. Usually, the witness is someone known to the Defendant and who is happy to come to court on their behalf.
But sometimes they are not.
Sometimes they are not well known to the Defendant, but the Defendant feels that they are a vital witness whose evidence may help exonerate them.
Let’s go back to our traffic accident example from before.