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Witness Credibility In Criminal Prosecutions

The Importance of Witness Credibility in Criminal Prosecutions

Nearly every criminal prosecution involves witness testimony. Witnesses of all kinds may be called on to provide testimony in a criminal prosecution. They may have been involved in the crime, witnessed or overheard certain actions or activities, or they may have become involved after the fact such as the police officer who investigated the case or the doctor who treated injuries. Witnesses:

  • Can be called by both the prosecution and the defense.
  • Provide their evidence at trials and evidentiary hearings.
  • Must be disclosed by each side prior to the trial.

One thing that both sides will do is analyze the witness credibility of every witness that is called. Some of the ways this is accomplished are examining the witness’s relationship to the case and his or her potential motives for testifying. Analyzing witness credibility is one method that criminal defense attorneys use to help prove or disprove a case. In a case where the defendant’s sibling is called a witness, for example, the defense will work with the witness to ensure the testimony is credible and does not seem biased either in favor of the defendant or against the victim. The prosecution, on the other hand, would likely try to raise doubts about the witness’ credibility by implying that the witness is biased in favor of the sibling or would lie or embellish facts for their sibling.

Character Evidence and Witness Credibility

If you are a fan of criminal dramas, you have no doubt heard the term “character evidence”. Character evidence is used in television, movies, and yes, in real life, to create an image or perception of the person in question – a witness, the defendant, or even the alleged victim. Attorneys from both sides will ask several questions to try and either discredit the person or bolster their image. 

The questions used to established character evidence in witnesses for a criminal prosecution are strictly controlled by the law. Attorneys cannot bring up irrelevant behaviors of witnesses. 

Criminal histories are a commonly used piece of character evidence, though they are not always fair game for questioning. In general, criminal convictions that occurred less than ten years in the past are more admissible than those that occurred further back. In most cases, the simple fact that the witness was convicted of a crime is all the information that will be provided; the substance of the crime may be inadmissible. This is because the witness is not the one who is on trial. Unless the facts of their conviction are relevant to the case in which they are providing testimony, a judge won’t allow excessive questioning about their past conviction.

Defense Attorneys Help Prepare Witnesses for Trial

Adequate witness preparation is extremely important in a criminal prosecution trial and is best achieved with help from an experienced criminal defense attorney. Most people just don’t have enough experience with criminal trials, judges, and being questioned by attorneys to feel relaxed and confident during questioning. More often it is a nerve-wracking and terrifying experience. To help put witnesses at ease, the defense attorney will want to speak with and prepare the witness for their role in the trial. They will explain what to expect at trial and what can and cannot be discussed ahead of the trial or in court. If there is a question of witness credibility, the attorney will work with the witness to offer positive character evidence that presents the witness in the best light possible.

The criminal defense attorneys at Eisenberg Law Offices are experienced and dedicated professionals who have successfully defended state and federal cases over the last 35 years. if you have been charged with a crime, it’s important to secure professional representation immediately in order to protect your rights. We will build a strong defense using the facts of the case, case law, and witness testimony.

Contact our Madison law offices at 608-256-8356 or by emailing to arrange a free consultation.



Eisenberg Law has successfully represented our clients in thousands of Personal Injury, Criminal Defense and Family Law Cases during our 30-plus years in business.