EvidenceProf Blog

Editor: Colin Miller
Univ. of South Carolina School of Law

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Liar, Liar: 3rd Circuit Finds District Court Properly Precluded Admission of Extrinsic Evidence of Witness's Fraud

Federal Rule of Evidence 608(b) reads as follows

(b) Specific Instances of Conduct. Except for a criminal conviction under Rule 609, extrinsic evidence is not admissible to prove specific instances of a witness’s conduct in order to attack or support the witness’s character for truthfulness. But the court may, on cross-examination, allow them to be inquired into if they are probative of the character for truthfulness or untruthfulness of:

(1) the witness; or

(2) another witness whose character the witness being cross-examined has testified about.

By testifying on another matter, a witness does not waive any privilege against self-incrimination for testimony that relates only to the witness’s character for truthfulness.

In other words, as was the case in United States v. John-Baptiste, 2014 WL 627685 (3rd Cir. 2014), a party can ask a witness about an alleged act of dishonesty but cannot prove that act through extrinsic evidence.

In John-Baptiste, Francis Brooks, Enid Edwards, and Bill John–Baptiste appealed their convictions that stemmed from their alleged extortion, kidnapping, bribes, and drug trafficking while each served as law enforcement officers. One of the ground for appeal was that the district court allegedly improperly circumscribed Edwards's impeachment of Elias Deeb. Deeb, an undocumented Syrian immigrant who came to the United States in 2004 and was seeking asylum, testified that in 2004 Edwards offered to illegally obtain a driver's license for him.

Edwards thereafter impeached Deeb by asking him about a fraudulent insurance claim that he allegedly submitted. Edwards then sought to follow up on this questioning by calling two witnesses who would have testified concerning this fraudulent claim. The district court, however, prevented Edwards from calling these witnesses, and the Third Circuit agreed with this decision, finding that Rule  608(b) precludes the use of extrinsic evidence to prove specific acts of untruthfulness.



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