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In early legal practice, one of several character witnesses produced by someone accused of a crime or by a defendant in a civil suit to attest, in court, that he or she believed the defendant on his or her oath.

The process of compurgation, called wager of law in England, was a type of absolution from a criminal or civil charge that enabled the defendant to come forward and swear to his or her innocence or nonliability. Through compurgation, the person on trial was able to conclusively contradict the charges and reinforce his or her position through others who testified under oath that they believed the defendant's testimony.

The use of character witnesses in a lawsuit by a party is derived from the old practice of summoning compurgators to buttress one's case.

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compurgator witness who swears to the credibility of an accused person when he purges himself by oath. XVI. — medL. compurgātor, f. COM- + purgātor purger (see PURGE).
So compurgation XVII.

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