RHODE ISLAND CRIMINAL DEFENSE A Practice Manual – Competency of Witness

RI Criminal Defense Practice Manual CoverRHODE ISLAND CRIMINAL DEFENSE
A Practice Manual, 4th Edition
© John E. MacDonald

 

CROSS-EXAMINATION

 

Competency of Witness

 

 

State v. Manocchio, 496 A.2d 931 (R.I. 1985). In a conspiracy to commit murder trial, the trial judge refused to allow cross-examination of the state’s witness as to his memory defects. R.I.S.C. reversed, ruling that defendant’s Sixth Amendment rights were infringed since this was the only witness to the murder and his credibility was the crucial issue at trial.

  • “.we have clearly endorsed the principle that this discretionary authority [to limit cross-examination] comes into play only after there has been permitted as a matter of right sufficient cross-examination to satisfy the Sixth Amendment.” Id. at 933.

 

  • “.an exploration of Kelley’s possible memory defects was especially warranted.It is readily apparent to us that Kelley’s credibility was the only real issue before the jury. As the state’s only witness with the ability to detail Manocchio’s participation in the murders, the jury’s determination of whether or not to convict him rested entirely upon its assessment of Kelley’s competency and veracity.” Id. at 934.

 

State v. D’Alessio, 848 A.2d 1118 (R.I. 2004). Defendant in a murder trial was prevented from cross-examining the victim’s mother about her drug use since her baby’s murder and during trial. R.I.S.C. affirmed.

  • “Before a defendant may question a witness about his or her present drug use, the cross-examiner must establish a proper foundation ‘through, for example, a showing of reasonably contemporaneous drug use.’” Id. at 1125 (quoting United States v. Banks, 520 F.2d 627, 631 (7th Cir. 1975).

 

State v. Rivera, 987 A.2d 887 (R.I. 2010). Sexual assault complainant with severe developmental disability was permitted to testify, over defendant’s objection, though defendant could challenge her credibility on cross-examination.

  • “When there is any doubt concerning a witness’s minimum credibility, it “should be resolved in favor of allowing the jury to hear the testimony and judge the credibility of the witness themselves.’” Id. at 897 (quoting State v. Lynch, 854 A.2d 1022, 1030 (R.I. 2004)).

 

  • “To find a witness competent to testify, the trial justice must make four determinations: “the witness must be able to observe, recollect, communicate, and appreciate the necessity of telling the truth.’” Id. at 898 (quoting Lynch., 854 A.2d at 1029)).

 

  • Witness’s need for testimony rehearsal goes to credibility rather than competence. Inability to explain terms such as “oath” and “promise” also did not disqualify the witness from testifying when the state could prove through other means that she understood the importance of truthfulness.

 

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