A lay witness is any person who has first-hand knowledge of the facts about a particular case, while an expert witness offers specialized knowledge. In court proceedings, both types of witnesses may provide valuable information to support a party’s legal arguments and potentially sway a jury in their favor.
What is an expert witness?
An expert witness is an individual who has specialized knowledge about a subject matter that is relevant to the case. These witnesses usually have extensive experience working in a specific industry or field of expertise, and may be called upon by either party in a court case to provide testimony on their area of expertise. Expert witnesses are also able to evaluate documents and present evidence related to their opinion more effectively than lay witnesses.
What is a lay witness?
Lay witnesses, sometimes called fact witnesses, are people that witnessed a certain event in question and can describe what they saw to the court. This could be anyone from bystanders, to victims, or accused criminals. Lay witnesses must provide testimony that is based on facts only and not their opinion of those facts. Generally lay witness testimony is very limited due to their lack of expertise or specialist knowledge relating to a particular case.
Who decides if someone can be an expert witness?
The court ultimately decides who can be an expert witness in a case. Factors the court may consider when making this designations are a potential experts’ educational background, professional experience and expertise in the subject matter or field of expertise required for that particular case. Above all, the testimony must be relevant, reliable, and objective for it to be permissible by the court as an expert witness testimony.
Overview of the differences between expert and lay witnesses
Expert Witnesses are typically qualified professionals or scholars in the field required for a particular case. They must possess sufficient expertise to be better informed than the average person. Unlike lay witnesses, expert witnesses are allowed to give opinions as evidence that may have a direct bearing on the case instead of simply factual evidence. Meanwhile, Lay Witnesses provide factual evidence and observations they personally witness, heard, or perceived by any means other than expert opinion.
How do courts balance evidence from both types of witnesses?
Courts will consider the evidence from both expert and lay witnesses to determine which is more valuable for reaching a verdict. Generally, the courts prefer evidence from experts because it gives them an insight into their field of expertise that applies to the facts of the case. Whereas, lay witness testimony gives a general understanding about what happened due to personal experience or observation. Ultimately, both types of testimony provide different insights that are important for making an informed decision.