Many criminal cases often come down to the word of the accused versus that of the victim. Other times, a third-party witness can provide testimony that either helps build a case against the defendant, or else contributes to a reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty. But is all witness testimony allowed at trial?
The short answer is no. Missouri’s and Illinois’ rules of criminal procedure prohibit certain types of witness statements from being used as evidence, though each of these rules contains multiple exceptions.
- Hearsay testimony. A witness is allowed to answer questions in court about what they personally observed related to the alleged crime. For example, a witness would be allowed to testify that she saw the defendant far away from the scene of the crime while it was taking place. But secondhand testimony is generally not allowed. Thus, if the witness testified that she heard from someone else that the defendant was not at the scene of the crime, the judge may not allow that statement to be included as evidence. Hearsay is considered less reliable, and it takes away the defendant’s right to confront the evidence against them. However, several exceptions exist that allow hearsay testimony into evidence, such as cases where the original declarant is unavailable to testify themselves.
- Character testimony. Testimony to prove or disprove that the defendant is the “type” who would commit the crime they are charged with is generally not admissible. Most of the time, it is not considered relevant because it does not comment on what the defendant actually did.
- Expert testimony. Before a witness can testify on a complex subject like DNA evidence, they must establish themselves as an expert in that field. This procedure involves demonstrating to the judge that the witness has the required education and experience to understand the subject they will be testifying about, and that their methods are reliable and generally accepted by the scientific community.
If your case goes to trial, your defense attorney will fight against admitting any illegal witness testimony against you. A conviction based in part on testimony that should not have been admitted before the jury could be grounds for an appeal.