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Witnesses are persons 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.


  • By malignant or vicious detraction, we sin against our neighbor's good name: by lying, sometimes even by casting a slur upon him, we injure him in his estate. It makes no difference whether you suppose that formal and judicial testimony is here intended, or the ordinary testimony which is given in private conversation. For we must always recur to the consideration, that for each kind of transgression one species is set forth by way of example, that to it the others may be referred, and that the species chiefly selected, is that in which the turpitude of the transgression is most apparent.
  • Nay, the commandment extends so far as to include that scurrilous affected urbanity, instinct with invective, by which the failings of others, under an appearance of sportiveness, are bitterly assailed, as some are wont to do, who court the praise of wit, though it should call forth a blush, or inflict a bitter pang. By petulance of this description, our brethren are sometimes grievously wounded. But if we turn our eye to the Lawgiver, whose just authority extends over the ears and the mind, as well as the tongue, we cannot fail to perceive that eagerness to listen to slander, and an unbecoming proneness to censorious judgements are here forbidden.
    • John Calvin, "Institutes of the Christian Religion", Book Two, Chapter 8, Section 47.
  • Over and above our own body, spouse, and temporal possessions, we have yet another treasure, namely, honor and good report [the illustrious testimony of an upright and unsullied name and reputation], with which we cannot dispense. For it is intolerable to live among men in open shame and general contempt. Therefore God wishes the reputation, good name, and upright character of our neighbor to be taken away or diminished as little as his money and possessions, that every one may stand in his integrity before wife, children, servants, and neighbors. And in the first place, we take the plainest meaning of this commandment according to the words (Thou shalt not bear false witness), as pertaining to the public courts of justice, where a poor innocent man is accused and oppressed by false witnesses in order to be punished in his body, property, or honor.
  • God therefore would have it prohibited that any one speak evil of another even though he be guilty, and the latter know it right well; much less if he do not know it, and have it only from hearsay. But you say: Shall I not say it if it be the truth? Answer: Why do you not make accusation to regular judges? Ah, I cannot prove it publicly, and hence I might be silenced and turned away in a harsh manner [incur the penalty of a false accusation]. "Ah, indeed, do you smell the roast?" If you do not trust yourself to stand before the proper authorities and to make answer, then hold your tongue. But if you know it, know it for yourself and not for another. For if you tell it to others, although it be true, you will appear as a liar, because you cannot prove it, and you are, besides acting like a knave. For we ought never to deprive any one of his honor or good name unless it be first taken away from him publicly.
  • Martin Luther, The Large Catechism by Martin Luther, Translated by F. Bente and W. H. T. Dau. Published in: Triglot Concordia: The Symbolical Books of the Ev. Lutheran Church (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1921) pp. 565-773.
  • 570. Anybody who knows evidence must testify in court (Leviticus 5:1)
    571. Carefully interrogate the witness (Deuteronomy 13:14)
    572. A witness must not serve as a judge in capital crimes (Deuteronomy 19:17)
    573. Not to accept testimony from a lone witness (Deuteronomy 19:15)
    574. Transgressors must not testify (Exodus 23:1)
    575. Relatives of the litigants must not testify (Deuteronomy 24:16)
    576. Not to testify falsely (Exodus 20:16)
    577. Punish the false witnesses as they tried to punish the defendant (Deuteronomy 19:19)
  • Sefer Hamitzvot by Maimonides
  • One who bears false witness against one's neighbor commits as serious a sin as if one had borne false witness against God, saying that God did not create the world.
    • Mechilta to Exodus 20:13
  • O ye who believe! When death approaches any of you, (take) witnesses among yourselves when making bequests,- two just men of your own (brotherhood) or others from outside if ye are journeying through the earth, and the chance of death befalls you (thus). If ye doubt (their truth), detain them both after prayer, and let them both swear by Allah: "We wish not in this for any worldly gain, even though the (beneficiary) be our near relation: we shall hide not the evidence before Allah: if we do, then behold! the sin be upon us!
  • One eye-witness weighs more than ten hearsays — Seeing is believing all the world over.
    • Plautus, Truculentus, Act 2, Sc. 2, line 6.


If the witness be a false witness, and hath testified falsely against his brother; Then shall ye do unto him, as he had thought to have done unto his brother: so shalt thou put the evil away from among you. ~ Deuteronomy
  • Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.
  • You shall not spread a false report. You shall not join hands with a wicked man to be a malicious witness. You shall not fall in with the many to do evil, nor shall you bear witness in a lawsuit, siding with the many, so as to pervert justice, nor shall you be partial to a poor man in his lawsuit.
    • Exodus 23:1-2 (ESV)
  • One witness shall not rise up against a man for any iniquity, or for any sin, in any sin that he sinneth: at the mouth of two witnesses, or at the mouth of three witnesses, shall the matter be established.
    • Deuteronomy 19:15
  • If a false witness rise up against any man to testify against him that which is wrong; Then both the men, between whom the controversy is, shall stand before the LORD, before the priests and the judges, which shall be in those days; And the judges shall make diligent inquisition: and, behold, if the witness be a false witness, and hath testified falsely against his brother; Then shall ye do unto him, as he had thought to have done unto his brother: so shalt thou put the evil away from among you. And those which remain shall hear, and fear, and shall henceforth commit no more any such evil among you. And thine eye shall not pity; but life shall go for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.
    • Deuteronomy 19:16-21
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.
  • 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.
    • Nicholas Conyngham Tindal, C.J., Lonergan v. The Royal Exchange Assurance (1831), 9 Bing. 731; remarking on the payment of expert witnesses.
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