College Judicial Consultants

Information on college, conduct, Greek life, advocacy, and fairness-published every Tuesday and Friday morning.

Witness classifications

This is the wrong page.  Sorry!  The post on the war on Greeks is located here.

 

Back when I was the chief judicial officer at MIT, students going through the judicial process would always ask me about witnesses and whether or not they should bring them to a hearing. My answer was always the same. “If they have first hand information about your case that you believe helps you, then yes. If you’re just going to call people to say you’re a good person, it won’t hurt you, but it probably won’t do anything for you.”

During my 4 years in the job I rarely had anyone ask a follow up question, which was good because I couldn’t really give them any more information that that without potentially jeopardizing the system itself. Since that’s not a problem I have now I thought I’d go into it a little more.

There are essentially 2 types of witnesses–material and character witnesses. Material witnesses are people who were either at the incident in question or present during some other point which is relevant to the event. Say you’re being accused of underage drinking at a fraternity party. A material witness would be someone who was at the party itself and can testify to whether or not you were drinking, or someone who saw you that night and whose interaction with you would support the idea that you were not drinking (e.g., your RA or roommate). These are people who have firsthand information about you or the event as it relates to the alleged charges. In addition, a material witness must also be relevant (i.e., have firsthand information that matters). So a person who was at the door and carded you who could testify that you did not have a fake ID would be a material witness, but they would not be relevant to the charge, as I’ve described it. Lastly, your material witness must not be redundant. That means that if there were 10 people at the party who saw you drinking Mountain Dew instead of beer, you will not likely be able to call all 10 to testify about the same thing.

Character witnesses are a completely different animal and are exactly what they sound like. These are people who know you well enough to testify (i.e., “bear witness”) to the quality of your character. Over the years I have seen this range from someone’s mom to the CEO of a fortune 500 company to religious icons. Many schools do not allow this type of witness, and frankly, they are not inherently useful when framing a case. If you think about it, anyone a person would call to be a character witness will almost certainly say good things about them. Since that’s the case, why should the opinion of someone you choose to talk about how great you are matter? Also, good people make mistakes or do dumb things, so your being a good person doesn’t really matter vis a vis the accusations. My rule of thumb is that if someone is going to simply talk about what a good person you are then a letter to that effect usually works as well as in-person testimony. However, there is one huge exception to this philosophy.

If there is an aspect of the accusations against you that become more or less likely to be true depending on a particular aspect of your character, then having someone testify to that aspect of your character may be useful. In other words, if you can make the aspect of your character that the witness will talk about connect directly to the case itself, then you move the character witness closer to the material witness category. In the above example, if the defense was that people saw that you did not drink, you did not act drunk with people who saw you after the party, and that you would have admitted it if you were drinking, then having someone who could attest to the fact that you consistently confess to things no matter the consequences would be relevant.

Witnesses can be an invaluable part of your case, or they can be an unnecessary distraction depending on how you use them. At College Judicial Consultants we can help you identify witnesses that support your case, make certain that those witnesses understand their role, and ensure that they are presented in a way that allows them to be heard by your campus judicial body. This service is part of our full respondent and complainant preparation consultation and can be the difference between being found responsible and/or the severity of your sanction. Check us out at http://www.collegejudicialconsultants.com and contact us to begin your consultation to ensure you have the best chance to achieve the best results.

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One thought on “Witness classifications

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