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Can a Witness Be Compelled to Testify?

June 26, 2020

Appearing in court can be an intimidating experience, even if you aren’t the individual on trial. If you have been called as a witness in a criminal trial, you may be wondering if your compliance is required. There are numerous reasons someone may wish to abstain from testifying in a court of law. However, there are only a few circumstances in which a witness may be exempt from doing so. 

Why Witnesses May Be Forced to Testify in a Case

If someone is a potential witness in a civil or criminal court case, they may be forced to testify with a subpoena. This is a written order from the court (it is typically hand delivered to the witness) that serves as a legal obligation to appear in court and share any relevant information during the trial. 

When a Witness May Be Exempt from Testifying 

There are several reasons that an individual may be exempt from testifying in a court of law, even if they are subpoenaed. If an individual is the defendant in a criminal case, he or she does not have to testify as a witness. Exemptions are also made for spouses of individuals involved in the case, individuals deemed not competent to testify due to age or mental disorders, or individuals with special protections regarding privileged information, such as attorneys or psychotherapists. In addition, a witness may refuse to testify if doing so would reveal self-incriminating evidence—this protection is granted under the 5th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. In situations where a witness is scared to testify due to retaliation, arrangements may be made through the court to have additional protection for the witness, such as a police escort, sealed court records, and limited access to the courtroom during the trial. 

If you have been served a subpoena to testify in a criminal court case, consult Janet Altschuler, Attorney at Law to understand your rights. Ms. Altschuler is an experienced, trusted criminal defense attorney in Tucson, AZ. Call her office for a consultation at (520) 247-1789.