Seeing a person commit a crime—particularly a violent one—can be very distressing. You could be going to the store or a movie, dropping the kids off at school, or even just sitting at your desk at work when a crime occurs right before your eyes. When confronted with a crisis, some witnesses become so-called Good Samaritans, feeling a moral obligation to intervene or call for help. Others do nothing out of fear of retaliation or putting their own lives at risk.
This same mentality often applies to reporting the crime to the police after the fact. The idea of reporting and testifying in front of a court can be frightening to consider. If you’ve witnessed a crime or if you have information the court deems important in a trial, you may be wondering whether the court will force you to testify. From your rights as a witness to when you might be excused from testifying in court, here’s everything you need to know.
Are You Obliged to Testify as a Witness in Court?
If a case goes to trial, attorneys may need to call certain witnesses to testify in court. As a general rule, a court can require you to testify after sending you a subpoena informing you what testimony they need. This is because criminal defendants have the right to confront their accusers, and this right includes the ability to call witnesses into court to testify and be cross-examined. Even if a witness doesn’t have to appear in court, they may be ordered to give a recorded deposition under oath.
The Exceptions to the Rule
There are only a few reasons someone might be excused from testifying. This includes the following:
- The testimony includes self-incriminating evidence: The constitution gives you the right to avoid giving self-incriminating evidence under the Fifth Amendment.
- You’re the defendant in a criminal case: As an extension of the protection under the Fifth Amendment, criminal defendants can never be forced to testify.
- The witness is married to someone involved in the case: Communication between two spouses is considered privileged by courts, meaning that you can’t be forced to testify against your spouse in court.
- The witness is one party’s attorney, psychotherapist, or priest: These professions require their clients to tell them everything without fear of the consequences. The court, therefore, gives these relationships special protection.
- The witness is not competent enough to testify: Some witnesses are not able to testify because their age or illness affects their ability to recall events and truthfully explain them to a jury. An experienced criminal defense attorney can help you understand if you or a loved one meets this threshold.
If none of the above apply to you, you’ll likely need to testify in court. Failing to do so could result in incarceration, fines, or fees. To ensure your rights and interests are in good hands throughout a court proceeding, it may be in your best interest to reach out to a knowledgeable Florida defense attorney who has experience in the courtroom.
Your Rights as a Witness
It’s important to note that immediately after the crime takes place, you have no legal obligation to report the crime to the police. If you do decide to call 911, there is no duty to offer up personal identifying information. Likewise, if you get a call from an attorney or detective during the investigation process, you aren’t legally obligated to talk or meet with them unless you’ve received a subpoena.
If you’re subpoenaed for a deposition, you must appear at the time and date specified to testify under oath. Likewise, if you’re subpoenaed for a hearing or trial, you’re obliged to appear and speak the truth. You may only refuse by pleading the Fifth Amendment.
Concerned About Testifying as a Witness? Contact an Experienced West Palm Beach Defense Attorney
If you have apprehensions about being forced to testify as a witness, it’s important that you contact an experienced criminal defense lawyer. For legal assistance, look no further than The Law Office of Gabriel & Gabriel. By seeking the help of an attorney, you may be better equipped with the knowledge and understanding of what you can expect, what you should or shouldn’t say, and whether or not you must oblige to a request for testimony.
Attorney Brian Gabriel has served the community of West Palm Beach for more than 30 years as a criminal defense attorney. He understands the complexities that are often involved for witnesses in a criminal trial and can help protect your rights. Call (561) 622-5575 or complete a contact form for a free consultation.