In law, a witness is someone who has knowledge about a matter, whether they have sensed it or are testifying on another witnesses' behalf. In law a witness is someone who, either voluntarily or under compulsion, provides testimonial evidence, either oral or written, of what he or she knows or claims to know.
|Part of the law series|
|Types of evidence|
|Hearsay and exceptions|
|Other common law areas|
A percipient witness (or eyewitness) is one with knowledge obtained through their own senses (e.g., visual perception, hearing, smell, touch). That perception might be either with the unaided human sense or with the aid of an instrument, such as microscope or stethoscope.
A hearsay witness is one who testifies about what someone else said or wrote. In most court proceedings there are many limitations on when hearsay evidence is admissible. Such limitations do not apply to grand jury investigations, many administrative proceedings, and may not apply to declarations used in support of an arrest or search warrant. Also some types of statements are not deemed to be hearsay and are not subject to such limitations.
An expert witness is one who allegedly has specialized knowledge relevant to the matter of interest, which knowledge purportedly helps to either make sense of other evidence, including other testimony, documentary evidence or physical evidence (e.g., a fingerprint). An expert witness may or may not also be a percipient witness, as in a doctor or may or may not have treated the victim of an accident or crime.
A character witness testifies about the personality of a defendant if it helps to solve the crime in question.
A crown witness is one who incriminates former complices in a crime who following receive either a lower sentence, immunity or also a protection of themselves or/and their family by the court. After they have provided the court with their testimony they often enter into a witness protection program.
A secret witness or anonymous witness is one who's identity is kept in secret by the court.
In law a witness might be compelled to provide testimony in court, before a grand jury, before an administrative tribunal, before a deposition officer, or in a variety of other legal proceedings. A subpoena is a legal document that commands a person to appear at a proceeding. It is used to compel the testimony of a witness in a trial. Usually, it can be issued by a judge or by the lawyer representing the plaintiff or the defendant in a civil trial or by the prosecutor or the defense attorney in a criminal proceeding, or by a government agency. In many jurisdictions, it is compulsory to comply with the subpoena and either take an oath or solemely affirm to testify truthfully under penalty of perjury.
Although informally a witness includes whoever perceived the event, in law, a witness is different from an informant. A confidential informant is someone who claimed to have witnessed an event or have hearsay information, but whose identity is being withheld from at least one party (typically the criminal defendant). The information from the confidential informant may have been used by a police officer or other official acting as a hearsay witness to obtain a search warrant.