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What Rights Does a Witness Have in a Criminal Case?

Have you or a loved one been summoned to testify as a witness in court? Testifying in court might seem like a daunting, uncomfortable and intimidating prospect. But by understanding your expectations as a witness and your rights, you can make testifying an easier process and ensure you provide the information requested by a judge or jury.

In today’s post, What The Law will look at what witnesses are in a criminal case and what rights they might have. 

What is a Witness?

A witness is an individual that has valuable information about a criminal proceeding that may influence the judgement. If it is deemed a person could be a source of information, they will be requested to come to court to share this information with the judge or jury. This is known as a Summons to Witness.

Witnesses should always try to attend any hearing they are summoned to. If they do not attend, they can be arrested and brought directly to the court. To ensure they are fully aware of their expected attendance, a witness will be personally presented with their summons and usually have several weeks to prepare. They may also receive a small amount of money upon receipt to make sure they are able to travel to court. 

When being asked to testify, the judge or any party hearing the evidence is able to demand the witness take a statement or affirm that they will tell the truth. These are known as oaths or solemn affirmations. Once the oath has been sworn, ordinary witnesses must then listen and respond to the questions asked while telling the truth. They are not expected to give opinions or share beliefs about why the crime happened.

Who Can Be a Witness?

Witnesses play a role on both sides of a criminal case. That means they may be called to testify for the prosecution or to testify for the accused. 

In theory, anybody is eligible to be a witness, including younger people or people with intellectual disabilities that might make communicating a challenge. Children under 14 years of age are not expected to make an oath. Because the typical courtroom experience might be uncomfortable or confusing for a child or intellectually incapacitated person to testify, they might give their testimony in a different way. 

Witnesses often include people present at the crime scene, family members or spouses, and even sometimes other members of the accused. 

Expert Witness

Not all witnesses are present at the scene of the crime or know the victim or accused well. Instead, witnesses can also be professionals who can offer specialist knowledge or opinions to the judge or jury, these are known as expert witnesses. 

The type of expert witness depends on the nature of the crime. Doctors and psychologists are typical expert witnesses as they may be able to provide medical insight into a person’s health or behaviour. But accountants, car mechanics, forensic scientists and many more professionals are able to be expert witnesses and they are often heard to provide insight on criminal cases involving motor vehicle accidents, fraud, theft and so on. 

Just like ordinary witnesses, expert witnesses are expected to take an oath to tell the truth. 

Rights of a Witness

While a witness might feel powerless about needing to testify, they do have some rights to make the process easier for them. These include:

  • Having a court interpreter - Toronto is one of the most diverse cities in the world and many residents do not feel comfortable or able to speak in English. For this reason, a witness can request a court interpreter to assist them.
  • Be informed about the entire process - witnesses should be fully informed about the procedure and their expectations.

Build The Defence You Deserve with Our Criminal Defence Lawyers

Our criminal defence lawyers work alongside our clients to ensure their case gets the complete defence it deserves, including with acquiring witnesses. If you or a loved one have been accused of a crime, our team of criminal lawyers in Toronto and the GTA are here to assist you. Contact us today to learn more.

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