The United States Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure defines a witness statement as one of 3 options.
It is either “a written statement that the witness makes and signs, or otherwise adopts or approves; a substantially verbatim, contemporaneously recorded recital of the witness’s oral statement that is contained in any recording or any transcription of a recording; or the witness’s statement to a grand jury, however, taken or recorded, or a transcription of such a statement.”
Witness statements tend to be taken by an attorney or law enforcement officer, but you can write your own too. Either way, it must be taken and written in your own words so that it accurately reflects your account of the event.
A draft copy will be drawn up for the witness to review and amend. There may well be many amendments and drafts created before the statement is ready to be submitted to the court.
Why do you need a witness statement?
They are very useful in corroborating information between different statements of an incident. They can be used to give an outside, often impartial, view of what occurred and who is at fault.
They are a source of written evidence to support one side of a case being tried in court. They can be submitted as evidence to a judge and jury.
How do you write a witness statement?
You should try to write the witness statement as soon as possible following the incident. This is because your memory fades and your memories can be warped by outside influences over time.
Your witness statement will need to begin with the case name and claim number at the top of the page. Underneath this, you should write out your full name and address.
You should write the statement in a formal and first-person tone, addressed to Your Honor. It should be clear and factual throughout, with no opinions or personal comments included.
The first paragraph should include a brief introduction to yourself and your character. This could include information such as your name, age, occupation, and relationship to the defendant or prosecutor.
It may also include your address, and place of employment. It should also detail where your information has come from, whether this is company records, personal knowledge, or anything else.
You should then get into the meat of your statement. This is any information that is relevant to the claim being debated in court. You should describe the events in as much detail as possible, and in chronological order.
Your statement will need to be concluded with a written oath. This is also referred to as a statement of truth. This is because you cannot appear in court to swear the oath in person. The oath should be something along the lines of:
I declare under penalty of perjury under the laws of the state of [insert state here] that the above is true and correct, and that this declaration was signed on [date] at [location].
You will then need to sign the witness statement with your signature, a printed version of your name, and a current contact number.
If it is too hard to verbalize the details of what happened, it is permissible to include diagrams in your witness statement.
What information is relevant?
This is factual information, such as the date, time, and location of the event you are a witness to. Be as detailed as possible with this information, as everything you include will add credibility and weight to the other accounts provided in court.
If the witness statement is about a road traffic collision, here are some examples of details you should include. This can be the colors of the vehicles, the time and location, who crashed into who, where you (the witness) was located, and what happened when the 2 drivers exited their vehicles.
It should also include an account of the drivers’ states when they got out of their vehicles, if contact details were exchanged, and if 911 was called. Try to include estimates of the speed at which the vehicles were traveling, the witness’s approximate distance from the accident, and the weather conditions at the time.
You could also include information pertaining to your involvement in the case. This can be your personal relationship to either of the parties in court. It could also be a detailed account of the event you witnessed, and could even mention things that you did not see as well.
Any information that you perceive to be relevant to the case in hand should be included in your witness statement.
Who is allowed to see the witness statement?
A copy of the witness statement is provided to the opposing party once it has been signed and submitted. In the same way, your attorney will receive copies of any witness statements opposing yours.
The judge will also be provided with a copy, and law enforcement officials are also likely to see your witness statement. If it is submitted to court as evidence, the jury will be allowed to see a copy too.
All pages of your witness statement, and any supporting evidence, should be clearly numbered on each page.
What are the 4 types of witness?
An eyewitness is someone who provides observational evidence about the incident in question. It is not always a reliable source of evidence, however when multiple eyewitness accounts corroborate one another, this adds credibility to their recounts.
An expert witness has specialist knowledge on a subject, or on the topic that they are testifying about. These usually are qualified professionals such as doctors and psychologists.
Character witnesses are people that know the defendant or plaintiff in real life. These accounts are used to evidence the individual’s reputation. These witnesses are particularly useful when an individual’s character is called into question.
Independent witnesses are also known as third-party witnesses. They have no relation to the defendant or plaintiff and have no link to the incident that is being investigated.
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