An unwilling (?) witness in a criminal case

An encounter with a criminal procedure can be stressful and you do not have to be a suspect to tremble at the mere sight of a summons to an interview.

After all, a visit to a police station is not the most pleasant way to spend your free time, even if the officer conducting the interview is a consummate professional.

First, the bad news: if someone is served notice requiring them to appear as a witness, they have to comply. The law states explicitly that every witness must attend and make a statement in such circumstances. As far as a criminal case is concerned, there is no excuse, and a summons cannot be disregarded, irrespective of whether it was served by a court, public prosecutor or police. We may pay dearly if we disobey—a witness that does not attend when required to do so by a law enforcement authority can be fined up to PLN 3,000. Spending two hours giving a statement may be unpleasant but the risk of being fined presents this issue in a slightly different light. In addition, this might not be the only consequence of non-compliance. A disobedient witness can be detained by the police and forced to attend an interview. Such a detention can be contested in court, of course, but this is little consolation.

Therefore, if we are aware that the time of an interview is not very convenient for us, we cannot hesitate. Every summons contains information about the body that served it and contact details—that information should be used to promptly contact the person who will conduct the proceedings. The police (and officers of other services) are reasonable people, and usually the date and time of the interview can be arranged without turning a witness’ life upside down.

The interview procedure itself is not complicated. The interviewee is required to bring with them proof of identification and should recall what they know about the case prior to the interview. This will help the officer conduct the procedure smoothly and in less time. Therefore, there is no reason to get too stressed.

This is the formal side, but we may sometimes have a reason to be worried about an interview. Some witnesses may know more than they would like and may even fear the consequences of giving a statement. Law enforcement agencies have a tendency to summon people whom they in fact suspect of an offense to make a statement as a witness, and in such cases, consultation with a lawyer should be considered.

Under the law, in a criminal case, a party who has not been charged is entitled to appoint representation but it is worth bearing in mind that a witness can also have representation. This is permissible if required by the interests of that person in the ongoing case. Of course, a public prosecutor can refuse to admit the representative to take part in the proceedings (and a court can do so in a judicial case) but despite that, an effort should be made to exercise this right—the law exists for the sake of people, after all.

Author: Krzysztof Witek

More from Traple Konarski Podrecki & Partners