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What Makes a Witness Not Credible?

When you’re injured due to someone else’s negligence, witness testimony can make or break your injury claim. Neutral third-party accounts from credible witnesses carry significant weight and help prove your version of events. However, not all witnesses are created equal when it comes to credibility in the eyes of insurance companies and juries. Certain factors can undermine even honest witnesses and damage your case.

Our personal injury attorneys know how to assess witness credibility issues during case preparation. We build strong witness lists of those who will reinforce your claim under tough cross-examination. We also proactively address any credibility concerns that could be used to discredit key witnesses. Here are some tips on what makes a witness credible as well as techniques for protecting their impact.

What Makes a Witness Not Credible During Court Proceedings?


In legal proceedings, the credibility of a witness can significantly impact the outcome of a case. Several factors determine what makes a witness not credible, including their reputation, casting doubt on the reliability of the witness’s testimony. One key aspect is the witness’s conduct during questioning, especially under cross-examination, where inconsistencies or evasiveness may undermine their credibility.

Additionally, if a witness has a prior inconsistent statement or a history of convictions for a crime that affects their honesty or integrity, their credibility may be called into question. Furthermore, bias or a vested interest in the outcome of the trial can also diminish a witness’s credibility, as it may lead them to distort the truth or provide such statements that align with their own agenda.

In both civil cases and criminal cases, jurors and the court must carefully evaluate the witness’s testimony, considering its probative value and consistency with additional evidence presented.

Ultimately, the credibility of a witness rests on their ability to speak honestly, volunteer information, and withstand scrutiny under examination by attorneys. When individuals fail to meet these standards, their credibility may be undermined, impacting the jury’s or the court’s decision-making process and potentially influencing the outcome of the trial. We’ll go into additional detail below.

What Makes a Credible Witness in a Personal Injury Case?

Many qualities can contribute to a witness being deemed highly credible by judge and jury during trial, including:

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  • Consistent accounts: Stories that don’t vary significantly over time carry more weight. Minor variations in answers are expected, but major contradictions or dubious “new recalls” indicate unreliability.
  • Firsthand knowledge: Sticking to what they directly experienced rather than assumptions or hearsay shows discipline. Speculation raises doubt.
  • Clear perception: Good vantage point, senses, mental faculty and focus on the events establishes the ability to testify accurately about what occurred.
  • Sound rationales: Calm, thoughtful answers and explanations for actions and observations give more confidence than confusion or ambiguity during trial.
  • Cooperative demeanor: Respectful, truthful manner without evasiveness or dramatics conveys credibility, as does avoiding coaching.
  • Limited self-interest: Certain situations such as close ties to parties, financial stakes in the outcome, or quests for publicity undermine believability in court.
  • Relevant expertise: Specialized skills, training, and experience matching specific instances carry weight when applied methodically.
  • Professionalism: Steady work history, reputation, education, community ties and lack of serious criminal record inspire confidence in some individuals.

No single factor defines credibility, but the more evidence of honesty and objectivity, the greater the impact witness testimony can have. We help prepare individuals to check these boxes in deposition and on the stand in trial settings.

Vetting an Expert Witness’s Credibility on the Stand

While experts can powerfully bolster injury claims with specialized analysis, they’re still subject to strict credibility tests. Strong credentials aren’t enough.

To gain traction, as a general rule, expert statements must demonstrate:

  • Relevant qualifications: Advanced degrees, licenses, certifications directly related to their testimony topic and consistent acceptance by other courts.
  • Field experience: Extensive hands-on work on specific instances in their statements sufficient to establish expertise.
  • Reliable methodology: Utilizing processes accepted by others in their discipline and refraining from speculative conclusions in court.
  • Logical explanations: Clearly articulating the objective rationale behind their opinions in plain language.
  • Independence: Avoiding financial or professional conflicts compromising their impartiality. Bias toward injured plaintiffs or insurers is exploited.

We thoroughly vet experts on these credibility factors before retaining them to speak. If holes exist that could undermine their testimony, we seek alternatives whose opinions and reputation can better withstand attacks in court.

Protecting Eyewitness Credibility from Being Discredited

Eyewitnesses seem like ideal credible witnesses. But defense counsel often alleges obscured sight lines, distractions, poor lighting, intoxication, vision issues, and other perception gaps with the sole purpose of discounting eyewitness accounts. Similar credibility attacks against the defendant target biases, relationships between eyewitnesses and parties in the case, or motives to shape the testimony being heard.

Still, eyewitnesses remain critical for reconstructing accidents and events. We emphasize factors that reinforce their credibility like:

  • Corroborating evidence: Photos, videos, data, and forensic analysis that align with the eyewitness version of events.
  • Early documentation: Consistent accounts recorded or shared soon after the incident when memories were fresh.
  • Strong character: Upstanding community members without credibility baggage or reputation evidence that defense lawyers can dredge up.
  • Independent perspectives: No close ties to parties in the case or financial stakes in the outcome.
  • Clear vantage points: Unobstructed sight lines and focus on the incident in question versus distractions.
  • Careful preparation: Honestly acknowledging any perception limitations while emphasizing facts within direct view.

While no eyewitness is perfect in court, we build robust proof around those offering clear, impartial perspectives so that attacks don’t derail the merits of their statements.

Typical Defense Attacks on Witness Credibility

Insurers and defense counsel have an arsenal of techniques for attacking witness credibility and creating doubt around even honest testimony:

  • Prior inconsistent statement: Exploiting answer discrepancies between deposition, initial reports, and trial versions of events. Even minor variations get magnified.
  • Challenging perception: Questioning conditions impacting the witness’s ability to observe events accurately at the time, like obstructions, poor lighting, distractions, etc.
  • Revealing bias/motives: Digging up relationships between the witness and parties, financial stakes in case outcomes, media attention-seeking, or other signs of potential influence.
  • Limiting knowledge: Objecting to court statements beyond direct firsthand observations as speculation, assumptions, or hearsay. Locking the individual’s answer into what they definitively saw and heard.
  • Dismantling recalls: Doubting professed memories of details through rigorous questioning and contrasting accounts. Partial admission of uncertainty erodes overall trustworthiness.
  • Introducing a conviction: Submitting records of a prior felony conviction or crimes involving deception (fraud, perjury, etc.) automatically damages perceived veracity.
  • Painting as “hired guns”: Alleging experts routinely work with and adapt findings to suit the attorneys who hire them. Undermining perceived independence.

We anticipate these attacks during witness prep sessions. We help those who are going to testify to fortify their character evidence while avoiding easily exploited vulnerabilities. Diffusing credibility blows enhances the enduring impact of such testimony.

Why Credibility Attacks Succeed

There are several reasons skillful attacks can succeed:

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  • Instilling doubt: Juries don’t need 100% certainty a witness lied to discount testimony. Even slight doubts raised through attacks reduce the weight given to those accounts.
  • Technicalities beat substance: Minor answer inconsistencies or perception limitations technically contradict positive attributes like forthrightness and cogent recall of core facts.
  • Cumulative effect: Attacks across multiple individuals give the impression of pervasive unreliability, sinking the strength of testimony on both sides.
  • Subjectivity: Assessments of witness credibility involve juror instincts, biases, worldviews, and prior experience. Attacks by the prosecution play on subjective tendencies.
  • Indirect relevance: While some attacks employ tangential issues, they still influence perceptions of overall witness truthfulness.
  • Difficult rehabilitation: Once outed, doubts rarely get fully dispelled even through factual rebuttals on redirect. First impressions stick.

Given the power of integrity blows – often based on character evidence versus what actually happened – we ensure individuals can defend their accounts of the event and answer to any vulnerabilities raised.

Why Witness Credibility Matters

Despite the prevalence of documentary evidence and forensic analysis, witness testimony remains pivotal in almost all injury claims and trials.

Credible witnesses directly influence case outcomes by:

  • Filling evidential gaps: Accounts of those present at the event as they testify provide unique details of what happened that can’t be captured with contexts, observations, conversations, and participant behaviors. This should be done without prejudice.
  • Bringing evidence to life: Witnesses put documents, data, photos, and materials into an accessible story jurors relate to. Dry evidence alone isn’t compelling.
  • Swaying equivocal facts: Where the evidence doesn’t point decisively one way or another, credible witnesses tip the scales based on their opinion testimony.
  • Overcoming evidentiary objections: Individuals get around exclusionary rules that can prevent introducing certain documents or other materials when testifying.
  • Supporting experts: Eyewitnesses often provide the observations experts rely upon to formulate their opinions. Undercut testimonies undermine expert conclusions.
  • Setting / challenging narratives: Effective witness accounts that jurors believe can establish or alter case narratives by aligning fact patterns into cohesive stories.

While building strong witness testimony takes effort, credible witnesses have an unparalleled ability to drive case outcomes by shaping the perspectives of the jury. We leave no detail unchecked when preparing impactful yet defensible accounts.

What Does a Witness Examination Look Like in Court?

When a witness takes the stand to speak during a trial, they will be examined by both the attorney who called them (direct examination) and the opposing attorney (cross-examination). The questioning they conduct is designed to establish the witness’s credibility and elicit testimony that supports each side’s case.

Direct Examination

The attorney will first ask introductory questions to establish the witness’s background, expertise, and relationship to the criminal case or event. This lays the foundation for the rest of their testimony.

They will then move into questions about the specific events or topics the witness is testifying about, such as:

  • What did you see, hear, or sense at the time of the accident?
  • Describe where you were in relation to the plaintiff and defendant during the crime or crimes.
  • Walk us through step-by-step what you observed.

The attorney wants to draw out all relevant details the witness remembers that will help prove their case and demonstrate the witness is credible and telling the truth.

They may ask the witness to identify or authenticate documents, photos, or other evidence related to their testimony to the jury.

Experts can offer opinion testimony on matters within their expertise without prejudice. The attorney will elicit the expert’s qualifications, methods, and ultimate opinions.

Leading questions that suggest desired answers are prohibited on direct exams.


The opposing attorney will then conduct a cross-examination, probing for inconsistencies or evidence of bias or opinion that undermine the witness’s integrity.

  • They may confront the witness with a prior statement or comment that wasn’t consistent in a deposition or police report proving contradictions in their account.
  • Questions will highlight any relationship between the witness and parties in the criminal case implying potential bias or opinion evidence.
  • They can impeach the witness with evidence of a prior conviction involving dishonesty.
  • The attorney may challenge the witness’s memory of details due to obstructions, distances, lighting, distractions, intoxication, or other factors at the time.
  • Experts will be pressed about the extent of their qualifications, biases, compensation, and use of accepted methods in their field.
  • Leading questions are permitted on cross-examination by the prosecution or defense.

The original attorney can then conduct a redirect examination to rehabilitate a credible witness and have them answer any damaging cross-examination testimony.

Ultimately, the jurors must decide if the witness seemed credible and truthful based on their testimony and demeanor on the stand to deliver a verdict. Skillful direct and cross-examination shape the witness’s impact.

Contact Crossen Law Firm for the Best Personal Injury Case Results

Ironclad witnesses don’t exist. Skilled cross-examination can dent even honest testimony by exposing minor gaps, outside influences, or other proof in how a person acted. We ensure your evidence can explain vulnerabilities that don’t actually undermine the core truth and relevance of their accounts.

Trustworthiness should hinge on substantive merits rather than immaterial technicalities. When you retain knowledgeable personal injury counsel, you better withstand reputation blows that insurers rely on to avoid fair claim payments. Our team works diligently to secure maximum compensation with persuasive witness testimony.

When it comes to pursuing your personal injury claim, ensuring the reliability of your eyewitnesses is paramount. At Crossen Law Firm, we understand the significance of reliable witness accounts in building a strong case.

Our experienced Indiana personal injury attorneys are committed to meticulously screening individuals and verifying their statements before presenting them in court. We recognize that working with a witness lacking dependability can jeopardize your chances of obtaining the compensation you rightfully deserve.

With our dedicated legal team by your side, you can trust that we will leave no stone unturned in advocating for your rights and pursuing the full settlement you are entitled to for your car accident injuries. From collaborating with those who are to testify, law enforcement agencies, and opposing counsel, to navigating negotiations with insurance companies, we are here to provide unwavering support and guidance every step of the way. Don’t let unreliable eyewitnesses derail your pursuit of justice.

Contact Crossen Law Firm today at 317-401-8626 to schedule your consultation and take the first step toward securing the compensation and closure you deserve.