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Testimonial Evidence & Law: Definition & Examples

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  • 0:01 What Is Testimony?
  • 0:59 Testimony & Personal Knowledge
  • 1:29 Testimony Can Involve Opinions
  • 2:53 Hearsay Is Usually Not…
  • 4:12 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Ryan Hultzman
What are the rules governing what types of information witnesses can testify about? What restrictions are there on what witnesses can say during a trial? This lesson covers the basics of testimonial evidence.

What Is Testimony?

There are a lot of rules that govern what can be admitted as evidence during a trial and what must be excluded. Admissible evidence includes any testimony, papers, or objects that are accepted by the court to help the judge or jury decide the case. One of the most common types of evidence during most trials is testimonial evidence, or testimony, which consists of statements that are made in court by witnesses and that are offered as proof of the matter asserted, or of what is being discussed.

As is the case with all types of evidence, there are many rules governing who can testify and about what. The Federal Rules of Evidence is the set of laws that dictates evidentiary rules in federal courts. Many states have adopted those rules or have adopted them with some changes. Some of the basic rules regarding testimonial evidence involve what witnesses who testify in court can and cannot say that would constitute admissible evidence.

Testimony and Personal Knowledge

A witness is a person who testifies in court under oath. To testify, a witness must have personal knowledge of the subject matter that he or she is discussing. That means that a witness must have knowledge of an incident as perceived through his or her own senses and must remember the incident. For example, Sanjay may have seen a car accident occur at an intersection. He could testify to the fact that he saw the blue car, driven by Mike, run a red light and hit the green car driven by Keisha.

Testimony Can Involve Opinions

Witnesses are also allowed to testify regarding their opinions, in addition to facts, but there are restrictions. Witnesses can offer their opinions only if those opinions are rationally based on their own perceptions. The opinions must also be deemed to be helpful in forming an understanding of the witness's testimony or the facts of the case. For example, let's say that Jack is on trial, having been accused of driving his car into the side of a building while he was drunk. Jane is a witness who saw Jack walk from a restaurant to his car and drive into the building. A judge may determine that Jane could testify regarding her opinion that Jack was drunk. Even though she cannot testify to his intoxication as a fact (because she did not see him drink and did not administer any type of test to him) her opinion could very well be determined to be rationally based on her own perceptions, as well as helpful to the jury in determining the important facts of the case.

Opinions are also allowed in the testimony of expert witnesses. An expert witness is someone who has some specialized knowledge, often of a scientific or technical variety, and whose opinion can help the judge or jury understand some of the other evidence that has been presented at trial. A doctor who specializes in pediatric surgery might qualify as an expert witness in a trial regarding child abuse, for example, to testify as to whether a baby might have been injured in a certain way as a result of having been shaken.

Hearsay Is Usually Not Admissible

Hearsay is a word that gets tossed around a lot, but it has a very specific meaning in the context of what is and isn't allowed at trial as testimonial evidence. Hearsay is a statement that was made outside the courtroom that is offered by a witness to prove the truth of the matter asserted as proof of what the witness is discussing. Basically, hearsay involves someone restating what he or she heard someone else say.

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