Witnesses are an important part of the legal process–for criminal and civil cases. If you’ve been grievously injured in an accident, a witness can make or break your case. Witnesses are also one of the most complex components of a case since witness reliability and credibility are both at stake.
What Constitutes a Witness?
In addition to witnesses who saw or heard the accident take place, other witnesses can include the parties involved, other passengers, mechanics who completed repairs on damaged vehicles, and the medical professionals who examined the injured parties. Witnesses will share what they saw or heard before, during, or after the accident. However, their reliability and credibility can affect how this information influences your case.
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Reliability is not the Same as Credibility
Witness reliability has been studied extensively. Witnesses must rely on their memories of the event in question, sometimes weeks, months, or even years, after the event takes place. If you are injured in an accident, and can talk to a witness immediately following it (preferably with a third party present) this can help you build a reliable case. If you can’t talk to an eyewitness immediately after the accident, you should obtain the names and contact information for any bystanders or other parties involved in the accident. In addition to your attorney, police, and insurance agents will also want to gather information from witnesses.
Credibility is a whole other ball game. Even if a witness has a perfect photographic memory, if the jury does not perceive the witness as credible, his or her testimony may be called into question.
Common factors that influence testimony are:
- Criminal History: If a witness is a convicted felon, the jury is unlikely to believe him or her.
- Obstruction: If a witness had anything obstructing his or her seeing or hearing of the event, or experienced any distractions, this can also be detrimental to credibility.
- Bias: If a witness has any bias–or perception of bias–the jury is unlikely to believe him or her. For instance, juries are often skeptical of close family members’ testimony in court.
Witness selection and preparation are complicated tasks. A skilled and experienced lawyer, such as the personal injury attorneys at Kryder Law, can make sure to screen and prepare witnesses to ensure their reliable testimony comes across as credible to the jury. Therefore if you are seriously injured in an accident, do not hesitate to contact an accident attorney. The sooner you act, the sooner affidavits and/or depositions of witnesses can take place and mitigate the effect of time on human memory.