Just as defendants in a criminal case have certain rights, so do witnesses. The information you are obligated to provide when asked is dependent on the nature of the case, and who is doing the asking. For example, if an attorney or detective calls you hoping that you’ll speak about the case, you are not legally obligated to do so, unless you have been subpoenaed.
If you do receive a subpoena, you are required to show up for the meeting or trial, and to provide the requested information. You can, however, employ your fifth amendment right by refusing to answer anything that could incriminate you. Additionally, you can refuse to testify about any communications that you may have had with your spouse.
If you testify, you are under oath. As a result, you are obligated to tell the truth. This is as true of a deposition as a trial in front of a grand jury. Any lies or misleading comments given during your testimony may be considered perjury. Perjury is the crime of lying under oath (“I swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth”), and it is a felony offense. A conviction of perjury under federal law may carry up to five years in prison. In order to be considered perjury the act must:
- Occur under oath
- Include an actual statement (silence is not perjury)
- Intentionally mislead the court
- Be material to the case (a lie or exaggeration that has no bearing on the case is not likely to be considered perjury).
A MA criminal defense attorney can help you determine how to proceed if you’ve been called as a witness to a criminal case.
If, in addition to being a witness to a crime you are also a victim of that crime, you have additional rights. Whereas a non-victim witness is not allowed to attend court proceedings related to the crime in question (other than one at which he/she is required to testify), victim witnesses have a right to be present at any public court proceedings. Victim witnesses also have the right to be informed of the defendant’s release or detention status, as well as the status of the ongoing investigation.
If you have been called as a witness to a criminal case, it is in your best interest to hire your own attorney. In addition to ensuring that you know your rights, an attorney can help you to avoid making incriminating testimony. When called as a witness, you do have rights, but you also have obligations. Determining what you have to do and what you can refuse, and how to not incriminate yourself, is much easier with legal counsel. Further, an experienced Boston criminal defense attorney can ensure that other attorneys follow the rules when questioning you. For example, attorneys are not permitted to “badger the witness” during testimony.
Altman & Altman, LLP – Boston’s Premier Criminal Defense Law Firm
If you have been called as a witness to a criminal case, the skilled legal team at Altman & Altman, LLP can help. We have been protecting the rights of individuals charged with crimes—and witnesses to crimes— for more than 50 years. It is our goal to ensure that you are treated in accordance with rules of the court and rules of evidence, and that your rights are protected. Our experienced, knowledgeable attorneys will thoroughly review the details of your case to determine the most appropriate legal strategy, and we’ll remain by your side throughout the entire process. Don’t go through this difficult time alone, we can help. Contact Altman & Altman, LLP today for a free and confidential consultation about your case.