In a Criminal Case, What Makes a Good Witness?

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In a Criminal Case, What Makes a Good Witness?

Whether it was for a felony or a misdemeanor, a criminal conviction can have drastic effects on your life. That is one of the reasons why criminal trials are so important. Being able to argue your case and present your own evidence and witnesses can help you fight the charges against you. Witnesses are often critical to the outcome of a case, which is why understanding what makes a good witness is so important. 

What Is a Criminal Witness?

A witness serves as a source of evidence. Their evidence can be used to influence a case, both during the investigation and on the stand during a trial. 

There are two general types of witnesses: 

  • A lay witness is a person who has personal knowledge of the crime (or lack of crime). For example, a lay witness might testify that a defendant spent the night with them at the movies, or that they overheard a conversation between the defendant and another person. 
  • An expert witness is a person who has specialized knowledge on a subject important to the case.  Expert witnesses often include the scientists who examined DNA evidence or a physician who can explain injuries. 


In a criminal case, a credible witness is someone who appears competent and seems believable when speaking before a judge or jury. Credible witnesses come across as experienced, knowledgeable, and honest. 

Four Ways to Be a Good Witness

Witnesses do not need to be strangers. Sometimes cases will call on friends and family to testify about the defendant. Other times the defendant will need to take the stand as a witness. If you are called to testify there are some tips on being a good witness. 

  1. Be Respectful: No backtalk, baseball caps, gum chewing, or eye-rolling. Essentially, if a teacher ever told you to “cut it out,” that behavior won’t fly in a court of law. 
  2. Tell the Truth: Lying in a court of law can have serious consequences. Besides losing credibility and changing the outcome of the case, lying can result in perjury charges, fines, and even jail time. 
  3. Be Presentable: Slacks, button-downs, suits, and conservative dresses, tops, or skirts are all court-appropriate. If you’re unsure about what to wear, ask the lawyer you are working with for advice.
  4. Only Answer the Questions You Are Asked: The court is not interested in backstories. Keep your answers simple and do not offer any extra information, and remember, you are not supposed to ask questions back.

Will a Bad Witness Hurt Your Criminal Case?

Yes. A witness can make or break a case for either side of a criminal trial. While a poor witness on the prosecution’s side might tip the outcome in favor of the defense, a poor witness for the defense could destroy the entire case. Because so much depends on the judgments and opinions of the jury, it’s important to choose credible witnesses. 

One way to avoid a poor witness and keep incarceration time to a minimum is to have the best representation on your side. By taking the time to hire a lawyer with experience, an excellent track record, and a passion for defending criminal cases, you will have a much better chance of winning your case. 

Criminal Defense Lawyers in Arizona

The team here at Van Norman Law has been working within the Arizona criminal justice system for over 25 years. Not only do we have the experience needed to build you a strong case, but we also believe that the strongest cases are the ones that you help us build. We include you in your own defense, to ensure that we have all the right information and that you are confident in how your case is being handled. If you are facing criminal charges, contact us today for a free consultation. 





Images used under creative commons license – commercial use (1/23/24).Photo by Lukas.