If You Witness a Crime, Do You Have to Testify?
For Witnesses, No Duty to ReportIt can often be a tough call for witnesses of crime to report what they've seen to the police. Thankfully, the law does not require any witness to a crime to call 911 or speak with the responding officer. If a witness wishes to remain anonymous, there is no duty to offer up personal identifying information unless an officer asks. And even then, you may only be forced to identify yourself to an officer in a handful of states.
If an Attorney/Detective CallsAt some point an attorney or detective may contact you via phone or email hoping that you'll speak with him or her about a case. You can, but you are not legally obligated to talk or meet with them unless you've received a subpoena.
If You're Subpoenaed for a DepositionIn criminal cases, it's uncommon for witnesses to give their testimony via deposition, but it may happen if a witness:
- Lives too far away (i.e., out of state or out of the country);
- Is hospitalized or dying; or
- Is in prison/jail and cannot be transported for trial.
If You're Subpoenaed for a Hearing/TrialWitnesses may also be ordered via subpoena to appear in court for a hearing or a trial. Here, as in a criminal deposition, a witness must tell the truth and may only refuse if he or she "pleads the Fifth." If you're concerned about being forced to testify as a witness, contact an experienced criminal defense attorney in your area. Related Resources:
- Browse Criminal Defense Lawyers by Location (FindLaw)
- Can You Go to Jail for Refusing to Testify? (FindLaw's Blotter)
- 5 Tips If You're Subpoenaed for a Deposition (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life)
- Ask a Question About Investigations, Arrests, and Trials in Our Community Forum (FindLaw Answers)
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