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Legal Dictionary

testimony

Legal Definition of testimony

Noun

  1. The verbal presentation of a witness in a judicial proceeding.

Related terms


Definition of testimony

Etymology

    From Latin testimonium (“testimony”), from testis (“a witness”).

Pronunciation

Noun

testimony (plural testimonies)

  1. statements made by a witness in court.
  2. An account of first-hand experience.

Further reading

In law and in religion, testimony is a solemn attestation as to the truth of a matter. All testimonies should be well thought out and truthful. It was the custom in Ancient Rome for the men to place their right hand on a Bible when taking an oath. The modern term 'testimony' is derived from this tradition.

Etymology

The origin is "the Indo-European roots *tre- meaning 'three' and *sta- meaning 'stand'. A witness was 'a third person standing by'. From that came the verb testificare 'to bear witness', which evolved into Middle English testify in the fourteenth century."

Law

In the law, testimony is a form of evidence that is obtained from a witness who makes a solemn statement or declaration of fact. Testimony may be oral or written, and it is usually made by oath or affirmation under penalty of perjury. Unless a witness is testifying as an expert witness, testimony in the form of opinions or inferences is generally limited to those opinions or inferences that are rationally based on the perceptions of the witness and are helpful to a clear understanding of the witness' testimony.

When a witness is asked a question, the opposing attorney can raise an objection, which is a legal move to disallow an improper question, preferably before the witness answers, and mentioning one of the standard reasons, including:

  • argumentative or inflammatory
  • asked and answered
  • best evidence rule
  • calls for speculation
  • calls for a conclusion
  • compound question or narrative
  • hearsay
  • irrelevant, immaterial, incompetent (this is actually not a proper objection because the term "incompetent" is meaningless and the words "irrelevant" and "immaterial" have the same meaning under the Federal Rules of Evidence). Historically, however, the phase had some meaning. Irrelevant evidence referred to evidence that has no provative value (i.e., does not tend to prove any fact). Immaterial refers to evidence that is probative, but not as to any fact material to the case. Incompetent is a catch-all for inadmissible, but typically referred to evidence that is probative of a material fact but is otherwise inadmissible, for example because it is hearsay or privileged. See Black's Law Dictionary (7th Ed.).
  • lack of foundation
  • leading question
  • privilege
  • vague
  • ultimate issue testimony

There may also be an objection to the answer, including:

  • non-responsive

Up until the mid-20th century, in much of the United States, an attorney often had to follow an objection with an exception to preserve the issue for appeal. If an attorney failed to "take an exception" immediately after the court ruling on the objection, he waived his client's right to appeal the issue. Exceptions have since been abolished, due to the widespread recognition that forcing lawyers to take them was a waste of time.

References:

  1. Wiktionary. Published under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.



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