Competency & Sequestration of Witnesses

Testimony of witnesses is a common way to present evidence during a criminal trial. However, before the testimony of a witness can be accepted during a defendant's trial it must be established that the witness is competent or have the capacity to testify.

Competency

The witness must possess the capacity to observe, to recall testimony and evidence presented during the trial, and to communicate to the jury. The witness must also be able to accept their obligation to tell the truth while testifying on the stand. The witness is required to testify to personal knowledge about the matter that is at issue and must testify truthfully.

The witness is not deemed competent to testify if they are too young, lack sufficient intellect, or unable to understand their obligation to tell the truth. It is within the trial court's discretion to determine whether the witness is competent to testify. Simply because a witness is young or has been deemed insane does not necessarily render the witness incompetent. Often times a hearing will held to determine whether a prospective witness is competent to testify.

Child Witnesses

A child witness is generally competent to testify if they have knowledge about the case and are able to convey that knowledge to the jury or judge. The child witness also should understand their obligation to tell the truth. It is with the trial court's discretion to determine whether the child witness is competent to testify.

Sequestration of Witnesses

Witnesses are not permitted in the courtroom while other witnesses are testifying. Sequestration or exclusion of witnesses is done so that the witness's testimony will not be unduly influenced by the testimony of other witnesses. An exception to the general rule is that a victim or her family is permitted to remain in the courtroom during the trial. Also, law enforcement officers, doctors and psychologists may also be permitted to remain in the courtroom during the entire trial.

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