Attorney at Law


James Parker
March 23, 2022

What Is a Witness?

A witness can be many different things in the legal system. Some official documents require an individual to witness the signing in order for it to be considered legitimate. In a criminal context, a witness is someone who may have important information about the crime or the defendant.

A criminal witness may be someone who saw or heard the crime take place. They may also have heard or seen some evidence of the crime being planned. A witness who saw or heard something is known as an eyewitness, earwitness, or a lay witness. 

Lay witnesses are only allowed to testify about what they saw or heard. They must limit their testimony to things they have personal knowledge of and may not offer speculation or opinion.

In contrast, an expert witness is a witness who is called explicitly to offer their opinion. An expert witness has been examined by the court and been found to be a credible member of their field. An expert witness may be called to support or dispute evidence, offer an opinion about the causes of events, or to contradict other witness testimonies.

While lay witnesses are made up of individuals who are in some way connected to the case on trial, an expert witness is more divorced from the circumstances of the case. Most expert witnesses are hired by the attorneys involved because of their knowledge in a specific area.

The final category of witness is the character witness. Character witnesses are called specifically to testify to the positive or negative reputation of the individual and their standing in the community. Character witnesses are purely supplemental to the case as their opinion about the defendant will not usually supersede evidence or eyewitness testimony.

Key Takeaways

  • A witness is an individual who is neither the defendant nor the victim, but who has some important information about a crime or defendant.
  • Lay witnesses are called to testify about events that they directly witnessed to the best of their recollection, while expert witnesses are called to share their expert opinion about events, evidence, or testimony.
  • In a DUI trial, the key witness is often the arresting officer who pulled the defendant over.
  • If you have been charged with a DUI on the strength of witness testimony, an experienced DUI attorney may be able to improve the outcome of your case by leveraging experience and expert testimony.

Witnesses and Driving Under the Influence (DUI) Charges

In a DUI trial a defendant can face a number of witnesses. After taking the defendant’s statement and hearing whether they will take a plea deal, prosecutors may immediately begin constructing a list of potential witnesses to corroborate the prosecution’s accusations.

If the defendant was drinking at a bar or restaurant, the prosecution may call the bartender or server who served them to testify to the fact that they ordered alcoholic beverages on the night in question. If the defendant struck a car or building, the prosecution may call the other drivers or pedestrians as witnesses to verify that the events in question occurred. While these lay witnesses can be troublesome, the most troubling witnesses that a defendant will face are the expert witnesses produced with the prosecution as well as the officer who charged them.

None of these witnesses are unbiased, all of them will be listed as witnesses for the prosecution and the prosecutor will be the one leading them through their direct examination. The lay witnesses that the prosecution produces will not be malicious or act as though they have it out for the defendant, quite the opposite. The witnesses will answer a series of simple, undisputable questions that the prosecution has crafted to form a path leading to the defendant’s conviction.

The arresting officer, however, will be a witness who is obviously antagonistic to the defendant. As the person responsible for filing the charges and writing up the police report about the incident, the arresting officer has a vested interest in making sure that the defendant is convicted. Likewise, the prosecution’s expert witnesses have been deliberately hired to support and legitimize the prosecution’s accusations with data and testimony.

There is a defense to these tactics. Just as the prosecution gets to lead the witnesses through direct examination, the defense is allowed to cross-examine the witnesses. During cross-examination, the defense can scrutinize the witnesses and their testimony, looking for inconsistencies and inaccuracies that they can use to show that the witness is fallible and misremembers the events.

Likewise a defense attorney can cross examine the arresting officer to find inconsistencies in their testimony when compared against their police report. To counter the legitimacy of the prosecution’s case, a defense attorney can produce their own expert witnesses to dispute the evidence.

Bottom Line

If you have been charged with a DUI, you will need an experienced DUI attorney. A DUI attorney specializes in DUI cases and knows the most efficient way to pursue your case to get you the best possible outcome. 

After taking your case, an experienced DUIi attorney will go looking for any eyewitnesses to get their statements as well as hiring their own expert witnesses to defend you. During trial a DUI attorney knows what stock statements an arresting officer may put in their report and how to dissect them and show them to be unreliable.

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