Witnesses hold an important role in the investigation and the trial because they hold some of the most critical evidence in a lawsuit, the kind of evidence that provides a jury with the answers that sometimes physical evidence cannot, and as such are able to answer the ‘why’ questions in the trial.
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The three categories of missing witnesses are;
- Identified witnesses are those witnesses who have been specifically by one of the parties or in a document or piece of physical evidence.
- Unknown witnesses are those who have not been specifically identified by the legal team.
- General category witnesses are originally identified through proximate probability and are known by the general description such as a utility worker or neighbor.
The four items paralegal can review in order to identify witnesses in a case are;
- Reviewing the existing physical evidence
- Reviewing the potential resources
- Reviewing ethical observations
- Reviewing his search strategy
A plan of action is required when searching for witnesses and their locations because most witnesses are not known or available to the legal team therefore they must be identified and located using a proper plan which is done based on the paralegal’s personal preferences, level of skill and the experiences of the past and by doing so he can avoid the repetition of searches conducted.
The objectives when planning a search for witnesses are;
- Identification of unknown witnesses;
- using a variety of public, private and printed materials and the internet to locate the witnesses;
- Observation of the ethical boundaries;
- strategizing the search.
Creating a witness list is similar to building a pyramid because a broad base is used to start construction and as information is uncovered, the list is narrowed until the best witnesses are identified.
Making a request to the postmaster ensures that an accurate address is obtained and keeps the search private. The fees for these searches are normally not very expensive and vary from state to state.
Ethical considerations that need to be observed when talking with the general category identifier are honesty about one’s identity, never threaten someone with legal action in case they do not co-operate, never use illegal methods to obtain information, always behave in a courteous professional manner and always treat any information received as private and confidential.
Identification and location of the witness is the most difficult as many witnesses are not known or available to the legal team and the paralegal must identify and locate them using his personal preferences, skill level and past experiences and not all people may be comfortable canvassing neighborhoods or calling strangers.
List of sources you can use to locate a witness are;
- Telephone- this is the most inexpensive and accessible resource for a missing witness.
- The post master- this is an ideal resource for verification and identification of a witness’s address. It enables secrecy in the case and is relatively very cheap.
- The internet – this has become a primary tool for finding witnesses, locating phone numbers and addresses by the use of options in the search engines such as ‘people search’ or ‘people finder’.
- Vote registration records as these are highly reliable giving the exact information about the particular witnesses’ residences and the citizenship details.
- The indices of the plaintiff and the defendant
- Marriage and divorce records
- Records of professional organizations, alumni associations and utility companies.
- In case a missing witness does not know that he is needed, the paralegal may research the driver’s license records by seeking the assistance of the motor vehicle department.
- In case a missing witness is intentionally avoiding a legal team, the paralegal may adopt an aggressive stance and contact neighbors or business associates or may research sales and real estate transfers.