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Witnesses are persosn who have firsthand knowledge about a crime or significant event through their senses (e.g. seeing, hearing, smelling, touching) and can help certify important considerations about the crime or event. A witness who has seen the event first hand is known as an eyewitness. Witnesses are often called before a court of law to testify in trials. A witness who specializes in an area of study relevant to a crime or other disputed matter is called an expert witness.

A subpoena commands a person to appear. 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. In many jurisdictions, it is compulsory to comply, to take an oath, and to tell the truth, under penalty of perjury.


  • One eye-witness weighs more than ten hearsays — Seeing is believing all the world over.
    • Plautus, Truculentus, Act 2, Sc. 2, line 6.

The Dictionary of Legal Quotations (1904)[edit]

Quotes reported in James William Norton-Kyshe, The Dictionary of Legal Quotations (1904), p. 248-249.
  • Witnesses may lie, either be mistaken themselves, or wickedly intend to deceive others . . . but . . . circumstances cannot lie.
    • Richard Mounteney, B., Annesley v. Lord Anglesea (1743), 17 How. St. Tr. 1430. See also per Legge, B., R. v. Blandy (1752), 18 How. St. Tr. 1186, 1187.
  • I will not say that a witness shall not be asked to what may tend to disparage him: that would prevent an investigation into the character of the witness, which may often be of importance to ascertain. I think those questions only should not be allowed to be asked which have a direct and immediate effect to disgrace or disparage the witness.
  • Whether witnesses are material or not, does not depend upon the result, but upon this, whether a prudent attorney, having a due regard for the interests of his client, would have brought them.
    • Erie, C.J., Dods v. Evans (1864), 15 C. B. (N. S.) 627.
  • Generally speaking, a witness has no business to concern himself with the merits of the case in which he is called on to give evidence or whether, when given, it will be material to the cause.
    • Lord Langdale, M.R., Langley v. Fisher (1843), 5 Beav. 447.
  • There is no reason for assuming, that the time of medical men and attornies is more valuable than that of others whose livelihood depends on their own exertions.
    • Tindal, C.J., Lonergan v. The Royal Exchange Assurance (1831), 9 Bing. 731; remarking on the payment of expert witnesses.

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