This post was co-authored by Barbara Bavis and Robert Brammer, Legal Reference Specialists.
When discussing the use of witnesses at trial, attention often focuses on the use of witnesses in criminal actions, such as how eyewitness identifications are made or whether improper behavior, like witness tampering, has affected the outcome of a trial. However, witnesses are a critical part of both civil and criminal trials, and they can be essential to proving your case and challenging the claims of your opponent.
To be able to utilize witnesses in a way that best helps your case, you must not only understand the procedural rules regarding who can testify and what they can testify about, but you must also make sure that the witnesses themselves are ready for court. The goal of this Beginner’s Guide is to provide you with the resources you need to prepare and examine a witness, and thus, ensure that the witnesses you call add value to your case.
As with many of our Beginner’s Guides, we suggest that those who are new to the experience of subpoenaing and examining witnesses first turn to a secondary resource, such as a treatise or a legal encyclopedia, to get a grounding in what witnesses are and what they can do. Below, please find a listing of some helpful legal treatises in the area:
Preparing Your Witness
- Preparing Witnesses, by Jonathan L. Rosner
- Courtroom Guide for Non-Lawyers: Including Glossary of 488 Legal Terms and 81 Suggestions for Being a Good Witness, by Benjamin J. Cantor
- Witness Preparation and Examination for DUI Proceedings: Leading Lawyers on Developing Questioning Strategies, Gathering Eyewitness Testimony, and Building a Successful Defense, by Nafiz M. Ahmed
- The Art of Witness Preparation: How to Prepare Your Witnesses to Testify Effectively at Civil Trials, Hearings, and Depositions, by Craig W. Weinlein
- Vouching: A Defense Attorney’s Guide to Witness Credibility, Law, and Strategy, by Donna Lee Elm
- Clinicians in Court: A Guide to Subpoenas, Depositions, Testifying, and Everything Else You Need to Know, by Allan E. Barsky
- The Role of Expert Witnesses in Accident Reconstruction Cases: Leading Experts on Utilizing Expert Witness Testimony, Understanding Technical and Scientific Evidence, and Preparing for Trial, by David A. Renfroe
- The Role of Expert Witnesses in Medical Malpractice Cases: Leading Experts on Utilizing Expert Witness Testimony, Understanding Technical and Scientific Evidence, and Preparing for Trial, by Carole Lieberman
- Expert Witnesses: Motor Vehicle and Accident Reconstruction Cases, by Jeff Curran and Kurt Meaders
- Expert Witnesses: Environmental, by Thomas J. Bois
- A Litigator’s Guide to Expert Witnesses, by Cecil C. Kuhne, III
- Feder’s Succeeding as an Expert Witness, by Harold A. Feder and Max M. Houck
To find these treatises, or other related resources, in a library near you, we suggest using the WorldCat Catalog. When you select a resource from your search results list in WorldCat, scroll down to the “Find a copy in my library” section, enter your zip code (or, if outside the United States, your city and country), and WorldCat will list the closest libraries to you that own that resource. You can then click on the library’s name to be taken to the resource’s entry in that library’s catalog.
Rules of Court
After using these secondary sources to get an overview of what witnesses can do and how they can be utilized, you will want to consult the rules of court for your jurisdiction to determine how you must subpoena a witness, which disclosures must be made, etc. The rules of evidence for your jurisdiction will be important in determining the scope and method of how you may examine your witnesses and those presented by your opposing counsel.
Preparing and examining witnesses is a challenging, but essential hurdle that must be surmounted in order to successfully present your case. We hope this guide has proven helpful. If you have any questions, please contact us through our Ask A Librarian Service.