Witnesses are people who come to court to tell what they have seen or heard. These people should either be witnesses who saw what happened or experts on the subject matter of the claim involved.
Before you bring any witnesses to your trial, discuss the case with potential witnesses who have personal knowledge of the case, and decide who can provide evidence in your favor. Whether you are the plaintiff or the defendant, you may bring witnesses to your trial to support your story.
You can compel a witness to appear in court by serving a subpoena on that person. A subpoena is a command to appear at a certain time and place to give testimony regarding a certain matter. The testimony may be before the court or before a court reporter and, if requested, the person may have to provide documents.
If you believe someone can provide essential information but the person is unwilling to appear in court, ask the clerk of court to issue a witness subpoena compelling the person to appear. Some employers may require that an employee be subpoenaed in order to be excused from work. You will need to give the clerk the person's full name and address.
The clerk will inform you about the required fees. There is a county-specific charge for a subpoena. The witness must be served with the subpoena at least 24 hours before the time scheduled for their appearance.
Arrange for the sheriff to serve each subpoena at least one week before the trial date. Bring to court the sheriff's proof of service of each subpoena.
If you do not subpoena the witness and the witness does not appear at the trial, the judge will require you to have the trial without that witness. The judge will not let you come back later with more witnesses or more papers after the trial.
If you receive a subpoena, you may contact the person who had you served or their attorney for additional information on the matter. Contact information is located within the subpoena. Don't ignore a subpoena or the court may hold you in contempt.
An expert witness is someone who because of their education, training, skill or experience has more knowledge about a particular subject than the average person.
Examples of possible expert witnesses are:
- Automobile mechanics
- Automobile body workers
The Best Witnesses
Bring witnesses only if you know they will support you. Witnesses who are not friends or relatives may be more effective in proving your case. If your only witnesses are friends or family, you should still bring them but ask them to present themselves in a professional manner, be objective and not be emotional.
Witness Letters or Affidavits
You may not bring letters or affidavits from witnesses to the court. Live witnesses who have direct knowledge of the facts to which they testify must present all testimony. If the witness is not physically present in court, under oath, and subject to cross examination, their statements may not be presented to the court.
Talk to Witnesses before Trial
Always talk to your witnesses before trial. Your witnesses may not see or interpret the facts in the same way that you do, or they may have forgotten some of the important details.
Decide the order in which you will call your witnesses. During the proceedings, the judge may ask questions of any witness.
Don't Interrupt Witness Testimony
Even if you think information provided by a witness is inaccurate, do not interrupt a witness to clarify the information. Make notes about the information you believe is inaccurate. You will be given an opportunity to address those issues before the end of the proceeding.
The party subpoenaing a witness must pay the witness a fee. If the witness must come from another county, the witness is also entitled to receive reimbursement for a roundtrip mileage from their home or residence to the courthouse. For a witness from within the county, the appearance fee may be paid when the witness appears for court. For a witness from outside the county, the appearance fee and mileage reimbursement must be given to the witness at the time the subpoena is served on the witness. Payment must be made by cash, money order, certified check or cashier's check.
Questions for Your Attorney
- Do I need to have witnesses?
- Can a witness testify by telephone?
- What can I do if one of my witnesses changed their story and ended up telling lies during my hearing?