is a person who gives testimony in a judicial, legislative, or administrative proceeding.
Such testimony is given under oath, or, if the witness's religion forbids an oath, under
affirmation. A witness may also be a person who signs a legal instrument, such as a will
or deed, that another person executes in the presence of the witness.
A court witness is ordered to appear in court by a subpoena, which compels the person to
attend and to give evidence. A person who fails to appear is liable to punishment for
contempt of court. A witness who testifies untruthfully is guilty of the crime of perjury,
and can be severely punished. Witnesses may legally refuse to testify against themselves
or their spouses.
The question of who is suitable to serve as a witness is regulated by rules of evidence.
The law considers certain people as unsuitable to give legal testimony. People who are
insane and people who are too young to understand the nature of a binding oath are
included in this class.
Contributor: Jack M. Kress, D.Crim., Special Counsel for Ethics,
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.