Friday, October 18, 2013
Like its federal counterpart, New Jersey Rule of Evidence 613 allows for a witness to be impeached through evidence of a prior inconsistent statement. One a witness has been so impeached, a judge might give the jury the following charge:
If you believe that any witness or party willfully or knowingly testified falsely to any material facts in the case, with intent to deceive you, you may give such weight to his or her testimony as you may deem it is entitled. You may believe some of it, or you may, in your discretion, disregard all of it.
But is this "false in one, false in all" charge mandatory like certain rules of evidence or simply a charge that the judge might decide to give? This was the question addressed by the Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division, in its recent opinion in State v. Barthelus, 2013 WL 5575897 (N.J.Super.A.D. 2013).
In Barthelus, Philippe Barthelus was charged with first-degree murder and related crimes. During trial, defense counsel impeached several witnesses for the prosecution through prior inconsistent statements that they had made to the police.
After he was convicted, Barthelus appealed, claiming, inter alia, that the trial judge erred by not giving the jury the "false in one, false in all" charge. The appellate court disagreed, concluding that
Defendant's argument that the judge did not provide the jury with a “false in one—false in all” charge...lacks merit. That charge “is not a mandatory rule of evidence, but rather a presumable inference that a jury [or judge sitting without a jury] may or may not draw when convinced that an attempt has been made to mislead them by a witness in some material respect.”...
Here, the judge told the jurors that “as judges of the facts, you weigh the testimony of each witness and then determine the weight to give to it. Through that process you may accept all of it, a portion of it, or none of a particular witness's testimony.” There was clearly no need for any further instruction on this topic.