What are the Four Types of Witnesses?

Typically the Four Types of witnesses are:

  1. Lay witness
  2. Expert witness
  3. Character witness
  4. Secondary witness

Lay Witness

A lay witness is the most common type of witness. This can be anyone from any walk of life who observed something that is relevant to the case. The lay witness will usually testify as to what their observations were from first-hand knowledge (in other words they were actually there).

They cannot testify as to something that is not based on first-hand knowledge; is hearsay; or is something they were told about or something they heard about. The lay witness must have relevant information that informs the jury of what led up to a crime or what they actually saw during the commission of a crime.

The lay witness can be a police officer. A police officer’s testimony should be treated as any lay person’s testimony would be and should not be given greater weight or preferential treatment simply because it’s a police officer.

Jurors are instructed to evaluate the testimony of a lay witness by asking if the witness seemed to know about the facts they were testifying to, did their testimony agree with other witnesses or other types of evidence presented in the case and the demeanor of the witness…whether or not they seemed credible or not telling the truth.

Can any criminal defense lawyer defend me in a federal criminal case?

Expert Witness

An expert witness is a witness who has special expertise in a particular field that is an issue in a case. For instance, in a vehicular homicide case an expert in accident reconstruction may be recognized as an expert witness to determine the cause of the accident.

A doctor may be recognized as an expert on the severity of injuries in an aggravated battery case. A medical examiner who performs autopsies may be recognized as an expert in coming to a conclusion on cause of death in a homicide case in order to determine that the Defendant caused the death of another human being.

Just because someone is considered an expert by the Court or by the lawyers in the case doesn’t mean that a jury has to accept their opinion as valid. Quite often experts are paid substantial sums of money by the party calling them as a witness to evaluate the case. Quite often, one expert from the defense will contradict the expert for the prosecution.

An experienced criminal defense attorney can effectively demonstrate through cross-examination of the expert that their methods were faulty and that the proper protocol was not followed…or that they’re just outright lying.

Character Witness

A character witness is a witness used to assess a defendant’s or a victim’s character. They are usually a family member or a friend who knows the person well and can attest to the kind of person they are. These types of witnesses are often used to offer testimony that the defendant is a truthful person in cases involving theft or fraud. Generally, character evidence is not admissible to prove that a person acted in conformity with the character that is known to others.

Secondary Witness

A secondary witness is a witness which often must be utilized by the Prosecutor to tie certain pieces of important evidence together. For instance, this could be a chemist who can testify that the drugs the Defendant is charged with are in fact illegal controlled substances; or a lab technician who took custody of evidence to preserve it and ensure it is not tainted.

These kinds of witnesses typically never have any information about how the crime was committed or what actually happened. They are necessary to prove proper chain of custody, that the seized evidence was not tainted, that the evidence is what it is alleged to be and to prove certain elements of the case.

Reliability of Witnesses

There has been much debate over the last few years of the reliably of eyewitness testimony. Not because the witness may be purposely lying, but because our memories are not perfect. Many things such as personal bias, being distracted at the time of the crime, not seeing a lineup until days or weeks after the incident and more could prevent someone from recalling exact details. According to the InnocentProject.org, “Mistaken eyewitness identifications contributed to approximately 69% of the more than 375 wrongful convictions in the United States overturned by post-conviction DNA evidence.”

This is why it is so important that you contact an experienced criminal defense attorney to ensure your case is handled appropriately. If you’ve been charged with a crime or have been brought in for questioning, call the office of Ray Lopez at 813-221-4455.

Written by

Ray Lopez has practiced since 1990, with prior experience as a Hillsborough County assistant State attorney and lawyer for the Tampa Police Department. He handles all criminal charges, from traffic violations and misdemeanors to serious felonies and federal drug charges. He practices in all state and federal courts of the Tampa Bay area and throughout Florida, as well as criminal appeals, juvenile court, administrative hearings, and civil forfeiture proceedings.

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