ARE YOU A WITNESS?
I must start by throwing more light on who a witness is. Witness in Law has a narrow meaning unlike its literal meaning as is the case with many other legal terms little wonder Patrick Delvin in his book, ‘the criminal prosecution’ once said, “every witness is an editor; he tells not everything he saw and heard for that would be impossible, but rather what he saw and heard and deem significant and what he finds significant depends on his preconceptions”
The term witness in its strict and narrow sense means one who gives evidence in a case before a court that may be the determinant of the judge’s judgment.
As a witness to a crime, your cooperation is essential to make the criminal justice system work or thrive better. I have taken to this discourse in an effort to lessen the inconveniences of would-be witnesses and to help them feel more comfortable in the court room.
WHEN TESTIFYING: here are some suggestions to keep in mind. What to say and what not to say as you prepare for your appearance.
· Always tell the truth. At trial as in all other matters, honesty is the best policy. If you tell the truth and tell it accordingly, nobody can cross you up. Do not guess or make up an answer. It is best to say, “I don’t know” if you are asked to explain a detail that you don’t know or remember, it issue best to say, “I don’t remember”. In a nutshell, it all boils down to the truth.
· Answer all questions directly and answer only the questions you are asked and then stop. Avoid “volunteering information” the court is not a Father Christmas and you must not make yourself a Santa Claus with answers.
· Beware of simple questions such as, “why are you here today?” hei! You have not come to volunteer information in order to convict. You are not voluntary organizations. It is safer to say, “you have appeared at trial in response to being served with a subpoena issued by the court”.
· Please at all times, give positive, definite answers whenever possible. Avoid saying, “I think, I believe, in my opinion” gentleman! The court will not entertain all those. As a witness, you testify to facts and not beliefs or opinions.
· Do not say, “That’s all that happened”, get more smart by saying, “that’s all I can recall”. Remember you are like an editor and not bound to remember everything. If possible, later in your testimony, you may remember more details.
In conclusion, the role of witnesses especially in any criminal prosecution cannot be over emphasized. It’s the bedrock of evidence law and most often, judgments are based on the testimony of witnesses since the court cannot be at two places at a time.
As I get to more study, I hope to throw more light on the roles of witnesses in criminal trials especially the Do’s and Don’ts.but before then, the most effective witness is one who can tell their ‘story’ comfortably. Just tell the truth and be yourself. Everything else I bet will be taken care of.
The contributor is a law student and tweets @yung_silky