What Are the 3 Types of Witnesses?


“Law & Order” is the longest-running crime-show franchise in U.S. history. First airing in 1990, between it and its spinoffs, some of which are still in production, there are nearly 1,200 episodes available. So, it’s no surprise that most people are at least passingly familiar with how a courtroom works and the work that goes on behind the scenes. If you’d like to go beyond the fictional settings and learn more about how the court actually works, read on to learn about the three different types of witnesses and how they’re used by attorneys.

  1. Expert Witnesses

An expert witness helps interpret evidence or clarify points for the jury in language that’s easily understood by a layperson. Unlike a lay witness who can only describe what they saw, an expert witness is allowed to give her opinion with the understanding that it is based on study and experience. Sometimes an expert witness is also a litigation support specialist who works with attorneys to help them understand the records they are reviewing.  DNA results, financial documents and psychological profiles are all evidence that would be presented by expert witnesses.

  1. Lay Witnesses

On the other hand, anyone can be a lay witness. A lay witness is what most people think of when they think of having to appear in court. Anyone who witnesses events that pertain to the case can be called to provide a recounting to the judge and jury. A lay witness is not allowed to provide their opinion and can’t report on conversations or events that were recounted to them by a third party, only what they saw with their own eyes.

  1. Character Witnesses

Finally, a character witness doesn’t have to know anything about the case; he is there to provide information about how a person normally behaves, what type of person he is. A character witness can speak for any of the involved parties. Family, friends and neighbors might be called on to establish that a victim is an honest and trusting person or that the defendant is law-abiding and family-oriented.

All three types of witnesses are used in both criminal and civil trials. Attorneys work with the witnesses before they enter the courtroom to make sure they know the answers to the questions before they are asked in front of the courtroom. They also try to prepare them for the questions that the opposing counsel will ask, minimizing potentially damaging information. In the end, witnesses are the key to winning in court.