Whether you’re engaged in a civil lawsuit or a criminal trial, witnesses can make or break your case. But identifying and locating witnesses isn’t always easy. While your client might be able to name witnesses who can speak to the facts of the matter or to their character, there may be other witnesses who are completely unknown to your client and have key testimony to offer.
As you know, there are three types of witnesses: lay, character and expert. The process of identifying and locating expert witnesses is a bit different than zeroing in on lay and character witnesses. That’s because expert witnesses can often be found through directory listings, professional associations and published works in academic journals. For the purposes of this article, we’ll focus on lay and character witnesses.
Identifying and locating lay and character witnesses can take some digging. Fortunately, online data records solutions like TLOxp® from TransUnion can provide access to actionable and easily accessible public, private and business records that attorneys can tap to reveal potential witnesses to support their clients’ cases.
What are the challenges with identifying and locating witnesses?
Often, the first resource a lawyer accesses to identify lay and character witnesses is their client. But, a lawyer will often have to go beyond questioning their client and exert additional effort to find witnesses. Some of these reasons include:
- The witness is unknown to the client: This type of witness is often a bystander to the action at the root of the case. Think of a traffic accident where a third party, unknown to the plaintiff or defendant, happened to witness the incident. This third-party witness’s information may even have been recorded in a police report. (As we’ll discuss later, police reports can be a great resource for identifying witnesses.)
- The client’s memory is impaired: Physical and mental trauma can result in temporary or permanent memory loss. For example, a person who suffers a serious head injury at work might not remember the accident, the events leading up to the accident or the people who were around them when the accident occurred.
- Clients may just neglect to mention a witness: When asked about people who can vouch for their character, a client may name friends and family. However, it might not even occur to them to name their former roommate, a pastor or someone else who can credibly speak to the client’s character.
Once you overcome the first hurdle of identifying witnesses, the next step is to locate them. Again, if your client has the witness’ up-to-date contact information at hand, then your search will be relatively easy; however, even in such cases, you will still need to verify that your information is correct.
What records can help you identify and locate witnesses?
When locating witnesses, what type of records search you conduct will depend, in part, on the type of matter. For example, if you are representing a plaintiff or defendant in a traffic accident, you will want to get a copy of the police report. Not only will this name the officer on the scene, but it might include names, contact information and first-person accounts of bystanders who witnessed the accident. In addition, information on the past locations of applicable vehicles is often of prime importance.
Records that are generally helpful in a variety of cases include documents pertaining to a client’s current and past residencies, as well as neighboring residencies, along with the names of all occupants over a span of time. Social media accounts can also be helpful in identifying parties connected to a particular individual. Some social networks, such as LinkedIn, even show you multiple degrees of relationships, allowing you to cast an even wider net.
After culling through records to identify witnesses comes the difficult task of locating them. Getting as much information as possible from your client and your client’s contacts will make the process easier. Names, aliases, phone numbers and addresses are some of the basic pieces of information that can help you conduct a records search to verify a witness’s current location and contact information.
For businesses, you can search records to locate in which jurisdiction a company is incorporated, along with the names and locations of any owners of the business. Government-issued licenses and permits are also useful, including professional licenses, driver’s licenses, hunting permits and weapon permits. Property records, such as deeds, assessments, foreclosures and liens may also contain personally identifiable information.
TLOxp can help you identify and locate witnesses
Identifying and locating lay and character witnesses can strengthen your case and add credibility to your client’s claim or defense. Records searches are an essential part of the process, and these can be done using a variety of methods, such as public Internet searches. Resources available on the Internet, however, may be limited in scope and the information available may be out of date or lack validity.
Alternatively, counsel can use technology, such as TLOxp, to quickly search through thousands of comprehensive public, private and business records to identify and locate witnesses. For more information about how TLOxp can help you identify and locate witnesses, visit our page for legal professionals.