|1.||Attestation of a fact or an event; testimony.|
|2.||That which furnishes evidence or proof.|
|3.||One who is cognizant; a person who beholds, or otherwise has personal knowledge of, anything; as, an eyewitness; an earwitness.|
|4.||(Law) One who testifies in a cause, or gives evidence before a judicial tribunal; as, the witness in court agreed in all essential facts.|
|v. t.||1.||To see or know by personal presence; to have direct cognizance of.|
|2.||To give testimony to; to testify to; to attest.|
|3.||(Law) To see the execution of, as an instrument, and subscribe it for the purpose of establishing its authenticity; as, to witness a bond or a deed.|
|v. i.||1.||To bear testimony; to give evidence; to testify.|
WITNESS. One who, being sworn or affirmed, according to law, deposes as to
his knowledge of facts in issue between the parties in a cause.
2. In another sense by witness is understood one who is called upon to
be present at a transaction, as a wedding, or the making of a will. When a
person signs his name to an instrument, as a deed, a bond, and the like, to
signify that the same was executed in his presence, he is called an
3. The testimony of witnesses can never have the effect of a
demonstration, because it is not impossible, indeed it frequently happens,
that they are mistaken, or wish themselves to deceive. There can, therefore,
result no other certainty from their testimony than what arises from
analogy. When in the calm of the passions, we listen only to the voice of
reason and the impulse of nature we feel in ourselves a great repugnance to
betray the truth, to the prejudice of another, and we have observes that
honest, intelligent and disinterested persons never combine to deceive
others by a falsehood. We conclude then, by analogy, with a sort of moral
certainty, that a fact attested by several witnesses, worthy of credit, is
true. This proof derives its whole force from a double presumption. We
presume, in the first place, on the good sense of the witnesses that they
have not been mistaken; and, secondly, we presume on their probity that they
wish not to deceive. To be certain that they have not been deceived, and
that they do not wish to mislead, we must ascertain, as far as possible, the
nature and the quality of the facts proved; the quality and the person of
the witness; and the testimony itself, by comparing it with the deposition
of other witnesses, or with known facts. Vide Circumstances.
4. It is proper to consider, 1st. The character of the witness. 2d. The
quality of the witness. 3d. The number of witnesses required by law.
5.-1. When we are called upon to rely on the testimony of another in
order to form a judgment as to certain facts, we must be certain, 1st. That
he knows the facts in question, and that he is not mistaken; and, 2d. That
he is disposed to tell the truth, and has no desire to impose on those who
are to form a judgment on his testimony. The confidence therefore, which we
give to the witness must be considered, in the first place, by his capacity
or his organization, and in the next, by the interest or motive which he has
to tell or not to tell the truth. When the facts to which the witness
testifies agree with the circumstances which are known to exist, he becomes
much more credible than when there is a contradiction in this respect. It is
true that until impeached one witness is as good as another; but when a
witness is impeached, although he remains competent, he is not as credible
as before. Vide Circumstances; Competency; Credibility.
6.-11. As to the quality of the witnesses, it is a general rule that
all persons way be witnesses. To this there are various exceptions. A
witness may be incompetent, 1. For want of understanding. 2. On account of
interest. 3. Because his admission is contrary to public policy. 4. For want
of religious principles; and, 5. On account of infamy.
7.-Sec. 1. Persons who want understanding, it is clear, cannot be
witnesses, because they are to depose to facts which they know; and if they
have no understanding, they cannot know the facts. There are two classes of
persons of this kind.
8.-1. Infants. A child of any age capable of distinguishing between
good and evil may be examined as a witness; and in all cases, the
examination must be under oath or affirmation. 1 Phil. Ev. 19; 1 Const. R.
354. This appears to be the rule in England; though formerly it was held by
some judges that it was a presumption of law that the child was incompetent
when he was under seven years of age. Gilb. Ev. 144; 1 East, R. 422; 1 East,
P. C. 443; 1 Leach, 199. When the child is under fourteen, he is presumed
incapable until capacity is shown; 2 Tenn. Rep. 80; 19 Mass. R. 225; and see
18 John. R. 105; when he is over fourteen he may be sworn without a previous
examination. 2 South. R. 589.
9.-2. Idiots and lunatics. An idiot cannot be examined as a witness,
but a lunatic, (q.v.) during a lucid interval, (q.v.) may be examined. A
person in a state of intoxication cannot be admitted as a witness. 15 Serg.
& Rawle, 235. See Ray, Med. Jur. c. 22, Sec. 300 to 311.
10.-Sec. 2. Interest in the event of the suit excludes the witness from
examination, unless under certain circumstances. See article Interest. The
exceptions are the cases of informers, (q.v.) when the statute makes them
witnesses, although they may be entitled to a penalty; 1 Phil. Ev. 96;
persons entitled to a reward, (q.v.) are sometimes competent; agents are
also admitted in order to prove a contract made by them on the part of the
principal, 1 Phil. Ev. 99; and see 1 John. Cas. 408; 2 John. Cas. 60; 2
John. R. 189; 13 Mass. R. 380; 11 Mass. R. 60; 2 Marsh. In 706 b; 1 Dall. R.
7; 1 Caines' R. 167. A mere trustee may be examined by either party. 1
Clarke, R. 281. An interested witness competency may be restored by a
release. 1 Phil. Ev. 101. Vide, generally, 1 Day's R. 266, 269; 1 Caines' R.
276; 8 John. R. 518; 4 Mass. R. 488; 3 John. Cas. 82, 269; 1 Hayw. 2; 5
Halst. R. 297; 6 Binn. R. 319; 4 Binn. 83; 1 Dana's R. 181; 1 Taylor's R.
55; Bac. Ab. Evidence B; Bouv. Inst. Index, h.t.
11.-Sec. 3. There are some persons who cannot be examined as witnesses,
because it is inconsistent with public policy that they should testify
against certain persons; these are,
12.-1. Husband and wife. The reason for excluding them from giving
evidence, either for or against each other, is founded partly on their
identity of interest, partly on a principle of public policy which deems it
necessary to guard the security and confidence of private life, even at the
risk of an occasional failure of justice. They cannot be witnesses for each
other because their interests are absolutely the same; they are not
witnesses against each other, because it is against the policy of marriage.
Co. Litt. 6, b; 2 T. R. 265, 269; 6 Binn. 488. This is the rule when either
is a party to a civil suit or action.
13. But where one of them, not being a party, is interested in the
result, there is a distinction between the giving evidence for and against
the other. It is an invariable rule that neither of them is a witness for
the other who is interested in the result, and that where the husband is
disqualified by his interest, the wife is also incompetent. 1 Ld. Raym. 744;
2 Str. 1095; 1 P. Wms. 610.
14. On the other hand, where the interest of the husband, consisting in
a civil liability, would not have protected him from examination, it seems
that the wife must also answer, although the effect may be to subject her
husband to an action. This case differs very materially from those where the
husband himself could not have been examined, either because he was a party
or because he would criminate himself. The party to whom the testimony of
the wife is essential, has a legal interest in her evidence; and as he might
insist on examining the husband, it would, it seems, be straining the rule
of policy too far to deprive him of the benefit of the wife's testimony. In
an action for goods sold and delivered, it has been held that the wife of a
third person is competent to prove that the credit was given to her husband.
1 Str. 504; B. N. P. 287. See 1 H. & M. 154; 11 Mass. 286; 1 Har. & J. 478;
1 Tayl. 9; 6 Binn. 488; 1 Yeates; 390, 534.
15. When neither of them is either a party to the suit, nor interested
in the general result, the husband or wife is, it seems, competent to prove
any fact, provided the evidence does not directly criminate, or tend to
criminate, the other. 2 T. R. 263.
16. It has been held in Pennsylvania that the deposition of a wife on
her deathbed, charging her husband with murdering her, was good evidence
against him, on his trial for murder. Addis. 332. On an indictment for a
conspiracy in inveigling a young girl from her mother's house, and she being
intoxicated, procuring the marriage ceremony to be recited between her and
one of the defendants, the girl is a competent witness to prove the facts. 2
17. See, as to the competency of a wife de facto, but not de jure,
Stark. Ev, pt. 4, p. 711. And on an indictment for forcible entry, the wife
of the prosecutor was examined as a witness to prove the force, but only the
force. 1 Dall. 68.
18. 2. Attorneys. They cannot be examined as witnesses as to
confidential communications which they have received from their clients,
made while the relation of attorney and client subsisted. 3 Johns. Cas. 198.
See 3 Yeates, 4. Communications thus protected must have been made to him as
instructions necessary for conducting the cause, and not any extraneous or
impertinent matter; 3 Johns. Cas. 198; they must have been made to him in
the character of a counsel and not as a friend merely; 1 Caines' R. 15 7;
they must have been made while the relation of counsel and client existed,
and not after. 13 John. Rep. 492. An attorney may be examined as to the
existence of a paper entrusted to him by his client, and as to the fact that
it is in his possession, but he cannot be compelled to produce it, or
disclose its date or contents. 17 Johns. R. 335. See 18 Johns. R. 330. He
may also be called to prove a collateral fact not entrusted to him by his
client; as to prove. his client's handwriting. 19 Johns. R. 134: 3 Yeates,
4. He is a competent witness for his client, although his judgment fee
depends upon his success; 1 Dall. 241; or he expects to receive a larger fee
from his client if the latter succeeds. 4 S. & R. 82. In Louisiana, the
reverse has been decided. It is there held that an attorney cannot become a
witness for his client in a cause in which he was employed, by renouncing
his fee, and having his name struck off from the record, in that case. 3 N.
S. 88. Vide Confidential Communications.
19.-3. Confessors. In New York it has been held that a confessor could
not be compelled to disclose secrets which he had received in auricular
confession. City Hall Rec. 80 n. Vide Confessor; Confidential
20.-4. Jurors. A juror is not competent to prove his own or the conduct
of his fellow jurors to impeach a verdict they have rendered. 5 Conn. R.
348. See Coxe, R. 166, and article Grand Jury. And a judge in a cause which
is on trial before him cannot be a witness, as he cannot decide on his own
competency, nor on the weight of his own testimony, compared with that of
another; 2 Mart. R. N. S. 312; 1 Greenl. Ev. Sec. 364.
21.-5. Slaves. It is said that a slave could not be a witness at common
law because of the unbounded influence his master had over him. 4 Dall. R.
145, note 1; but see 1 St. Tr. 113 Macnally's Ev. 156. By statutory
provisions in the slave states, a slave is generally held incompetent in
actions between white persons. See 7 Monr. R. 91; 4 Ham. R. 353; 5 Litt. R.
171; 3 Harr. & John. 97; 1 McCord, R. 430. In New York a free black man is
competent to prove facts happening while he was a slave. 1 John. R. 508; see
10 John. R. 132.
22.-6. A party to a negotiable instrument, is not allowed to give
evidence to invalidate it. 1 T. R. 300. But the rule is confined to
negotiable instruments. 1 Bl. R. 365. This rule does not appear to be very
firmly established in England. In the state courts of some of the United
States it has been adopted, and may now be considered to be law. 2 Dall. R.
194; ld. 196; 2 Binn. R. 154; 2 Dall. R. 242; 1 Cain. R. 258, 267; 2 Johns.
R. 165; Id. 258; 1 John. R. 572; 3 Mass R. 559; Id. 565; Id. 27; Id. 31; 1
Day, R. 17; 6 Pet. 51; 8 Pet. 12; 5 Greenl. 374; 1 Bailey, 479; 2 Dall. 194.
But flee 16 John. 70; 8 Wend. 90; 20 John. 285. The witness may however
testify to subsequent facts, not tending to show that the instrument was
originally invalid. Peake's N. P. C. 6. See 2 Wash. 63; 1 Hen. & Munf. 165,
166, 175; 1 Cranch, R. 194.
23.-Sec. 4. When the witness has no religious principles to bind his
conscience, the law rejects his testimony; but there is not such defect of
religious principles, when the witness believes in the existence of a God,
who will reward or punish in this world or that which is to come. Willes' R.
550. Vide the article Infidel where the subject is more fully examined and
Atheist; Future state.
24.-Sec. 5. Infamy (q.v.) is a disqualification while it remains.
25.-III. As to the number of witnesses, it is a general rule that one
witness is sufficient to establish a fact, but to this there are exceptions,
both in civil and criminal cases.
26.-1. In civil cases. The laws of perhaps all the states of the Union
require two witnesses and some require even more, to prove the execution of
a last will and testament devising lands.
27.-2. In criminal cages, there are several instances where two
witnesses at least are required. The constitution of the United States, art.
3, s. 3, provides that no person shall be convicted of treason, unless on
the testimony of two witnesses to the same overt act, or on confession in
open court. In cases of perjury there must evidently be two witnesses, or
one witness, and such circumstances as have the effect of one witness; for
if there be but one witness, then there is oath against oath, and therefore
28. A witness may be compelled to attend court. In the first place a
subpoena requiring his attendance must be served upon him personally, and on
his neglect to attend, an attachment for contempt will be issued. See,
generally, Bouv. Inst. Index, h.t.
WITNESS, AGED. It has been laid down as a rule that to be considered an aged
witness, a person must be at least seventy years old. See Aged Witness.
WITNESS, GOING. A going witness is one who is about to leave the
jurisdiction of the court in which a cause is depending. See Going Witness.TV-viewer
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