Witnesses are common in many personal injury lawsuits, such as car accident cases and faulty medical device claims. When a witness answers questions under oath, the information they provide is known as testimony. Testimony is considered a form of evidence and can be used to help decide cases. This is because there are rules and procedures that must be followed to gather testimony, in order to make sure it is as truthful and relevant as possible.
Not all statements made by a witness count as testimony. It must be taken formally, under certain circumstances:
- The witness is under oath. Normally this means that the witness swears on a Bible or other holy text. If the witness prefers, the state of Georgia allows them to give their oath to tell the truth without any religious text.
- Attorneys ask the witness specific questions. Witnesses are not just asked to speak in an open-ended way, because this tends to stray into opinions and irrelevant information. Attorneys are looking for specific facts in a case and will ask questions designed to get at those facts.
- Speculation is not allowed. Speculation means making a guess about what happened. Witnesses are generally restricted to saying what they saw, heard, or know for a fact; they are not supposed to guess or fill in the blanks.
- Attorneys can object to the questions or answers. If a question is designed to “lead” the witness to a certain answer, if it encourages speculation, or if it is irrelevant the other side can object. Likewise, if the witness strays into speculation, gets off topic or refuses to answer a question, the attorneys can object.
Testimony can be taken either during trial or before trial in a formal process called a deposition. If during trial, attorneys can object in real time. If at a deposition, the questions and answers may be allowed, but objections can be made to the judge later and certain questions can be stricken from the record.
Statements made by a witness outside of formal testimony do not carry the same weight in court, if they are allowed in court at all.
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