Witnesses at Trial

October 4, 2016

Being injured in an accident can prove to become a difficult life changing event and/or interruption. You may be left unable to work, care for your home and family and lose the ability to continue to take part in things you love to do. As a result of this, your family may have to pick up the slack with cleaning, attending to maintenance or taking care of the kids. Your colleagues might have to take on more projects or hire additional staff at work. While these people may be essential in helping you recover from your injury, they can also be utilized later on as witnesses that can testify what you went through should your case proceed to trial.

Witnesses are a critical part of the trial process, and are used to give evidence about what they saw or to confirm authenticity of documents. There are different types of witnesses: expert witnesses and lay witnesses. Expert witnesses are qualified experts that can provide testimony on aspects such as how an accident has impacted you financially or what your medical or physical future may look like. A lay witness is often a family member, friend, colleague or acquaintance who can provide useful testimony to establish what impact your accident has on your personal or professional life. Both types of witnesses are very useful and provide a great deal of impact when combined together.

While the majority of us would be considered to be lay witnesses, the following is to explain some common questions that often arise.

What makes a good witness?  

Anyone that’s seen the impact an accident has had on your life and that can testify to those changes is considered a good witness. While people that are closest to you such as your parents, spouse, kids and best friends may seem like obvious choices for witnesses, those who have observed your life changes from afar can sometimes be more valuable. In some of the trials we have run at Spraggs & Co., the more powerful witnesses were individuals that did not even make it on a Plaintiffs’ list of likely witnesses.

Subpoenas

You will know when you have been asked to become a witness to a court case because you would be contacted by a process server or court official and served with a document called a subpoena. After you have been served with a subpoena, you have to understand that you must attend on the date and time that is laid out on the document. Failure to do so may result in a warrant being issued for your arrest. If you believe you are not a proper match to be a witness, you can apply to a judge at least 2 days prior to the court date and request to be removed as a witness. If you need to take the day off work, your employer must give you the time off.

 What is expected from me when I am subpoenaed to become a witness?

When you are first subpoenaed to become a witness, you can take some steps to get ready. You can start thinking about the events you saw and try to remember dates, descriptions and words. You are there to assist the judge or jury come to a better understanding of what really happened. The lawyer for the side that has subpoenaed you will often assist you get ready for your testimony. In the process of preparing you for trial, they will likely ask you questions about similar things that could be brought up during your actual testimony.

How will I be prepared before a trial?

It is more than reasonable to refresh your memory on information and occurrences that happened in the past leading up to the time you give your testimony. You may be asked to meet with the lawyer that has requested your presence as a witness to discuss your participation in the trial. Some things that may be discussed during this meeting are discussions about what evidence you have, types of questions that could be asked by the lawyers on each side, the proper way of answering questions and basic courtroom etiquette.

Can I speak to others about the case?

You should not discuss your evidence with other witnesses. However, you may be contacted by individuals working on behalf of the party who is not calling you as a witness. For example, you may be scheduled to give evidence at your best friend’s trial for her injuries in a motor vehicle accident when a lawyer or investigator for ICBC calls you and requests an interview. They are permitted to do this, and you may speak with them – the choice is yours.

 What happens during my testimony?

When it is your turn to testify, your name will be called to enter the courtroom. You will be led to the witness box in the courtroom where you will either swear or affirm that you will tell the truth. You will then be asked to state your name. The first person to start asking you questions is the lawyer for the party that asked you to become a witness. After that, the lawyer on the other side may ask additional questions or questions to clarify previous answers.

What if I am not comfortable with English?

If you have been asked to be a witness and have a difficult time understanding or speaking English, you may have a translator present in the courtroom with you. Advise the lawyer who has contacted or subpoenaed you and discuss a translator with them.

What if I forget things that happened?

If you forget events that happened while you are giving your testimony, don’t panic. If you cannot remember, it is best to be honest that you can’t recall. Honesty is a must in a courtroom and there can be serious consequences if you do not tell the truth.

 How much time does being a witness take?

When you receive your subpoena, the dates and times that you must be present are listed. Like many things, the court schedule could run behind and you may be required to wait for periods of time during trial. As much of an inconvenience this could be to your schedule, please be patient.

Do I get paid to be a witness?

Yes, you do get paid. This form of payment is called conduct money and is provided based on the amount of days you are required in court. The amount you are paid also differs if you are required to travel out of town for your testimony.

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