In the legal profession, there will be moments when a witness becomes paramount to a case. No matter whether they will be helpful to the defense or the prosecution, the ability to source either an eyewitness or an general witness that can offer significant circumstantial evidence to support one of the arguments is vital for justice to be upheld.
As an extension of this point, there is a need to entice and engage witnesses to attend a court proceeding or a trial and answer these questions from both sides of the court. This is where the capacity to testify becomes all encompassing as it will have a direct impact on the outcome of the case.
However, what is there to stop an individual from refusing their duty to testify? Can a judge force you to testify even in a scenario where you do not wish to do so?
Here we will examine some of the important legalities that surround this issue.
Issue of the Subpoena
A subpoena that is handed down is utilized for one single purpose – to compel an individual to testify. That is the central objective of this practice that is handed down by the judge. It will occur if a witness does not arrive to court voluntarily having been requested to, seeing a subpoena as an official means of acquiring the testimony by legal force.
Exceptions to a Subpoena
The subpoena can be overridden in some exceptional circumstances. This includes if the testimony would be self-incriminating for the witness, if the individual is married or has a significant relationship to the defendant, if there is a professional engagement and seen as a conflict of interest, or there is a lack of competence and credibility. Should the defendant be involved in a criminal case, they are protected under the Fifth Amendment.
Penalties Handed Down
Those that are given a subpoena are obliged to testify according to a judge and a court of law. Should that individual fail the subpoena having been handed the document and been made aware of the order, then they can find themselves in contempt of court.
This carries a significant penalty at it can be at the discretion of the judge in question to hand down a separate sentence for that citizen who has not complied with the order. Varied from a small to a large fine or even imprisonment in some circumstances, it is considered a violation to avoid testifying in court when officials have deemed it paramount that you do so for the sake of an important case.