You're Allowed to Question a Witness About the Fact that He's a Liar


In the case of the United States versus Jorge Cedeno, the trial judge prevented Cedeno’s lawyer from questioning a detective about the fact that he had lied (and been caught lying) in a prior court proceeding in an unrelated case. 


The trial judge prevented such questioning after considering:


1.    Whether the prior judicial finding addressed the detective’s honesty in that specific case or generally; and


2.    Whether the two sets of testimony involved a similar subject.


The court of appeals disagreed with the trial judge, however, concluding that he should have also considered such things as:


  • Whether the lie was under oath in a judicial proceeding or was made in a less formal setting;


  • Whether the lie was about a matter that was important or trivial; 


  • How much time had gone by since the lie was told;


  • Whether there had been any intervening credibility determination regarding the witness;


  • The apparent motive for the lie and whether a similar motive existed in the current proceeding; and


  • Whether the witness offered an explanation for the lie and, if so, whether his explanation was plausible.

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