EvidenceProf Blog

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

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Hawaii Case Addresses Intersection Between the Right to a Public Trial & Witness Sequestration Rule

Similar to its its federal counterpart, Hawai'i Rule of Evidence 615 provides that

At the request of a party the court shall order witnesses excluded so that they cannot hear the testimony of other witnesses, and it may make the order of its own motion. This rule does not authorize exclusion of (1) a party who is a natural person, or (2) an officer or employee of a party which is not a natural person designated as its representative by its attorney, or (3) a person whose presence is shown by a party to be essential to the presentation of the party's cause.

Meanwhile, the Sixth Amendment provides an accused with "the right to a speedy and public trial." So, is there a conflict between Rule 615 -- a rule of witness sequestration -- and the right to a public trial?

As the recent opinion of the Intermediate Court of Appeals of Hawai‘i in State v. Wang, 2019 WL 3384853 (Hawai'i App. 2019), makes clear, the answer is "no." In Wang, Jin Wang was charged with Sexual Assault in the Third Degree. At trial, after Wang's sister testify, she was sequestered pursuant to Hawai'i Rule of Evidence 615. In rejecting Wang's argument on appeal that this violated his right to a public trial, the court held that

There are two rules at play here, which “serve unique and mutually inclusive ends”: (1) the right to a public trial...; and (2) the witness exclusionary rule under Hawai'i Rule of Evidence 615....

A public trial safeguards against secret trials and allows “the public [to] see that a defendant is fairly dealt with and not unjustly condemned.”...Here, the courtroom remained open to non-testifying individuals, including Wang's parents; thus, the trial was not held in secret. The witness exclusionary rule safeguards against witnesses shaping their testimony to match that of other witnesses....Subject to the exceptions specified in Hawai'i Rule of Evidence 615,  which Wang does not assert apply, witness exclusion under the rule “is generally a matter of right.”...Even though the chance of her being called again to testify was slim, the Circuit Court did not err in excluding her. Because the “right to a public trial is not implicated by the exclusion of a potential witness pursuant to the witness exclusionary rule,” Wang was not denied a right to a public trial when his sister was excluded



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Great read and thanks for posting

Posted by: Ramez Shamieh | Aug 2, 2019 1:15:30 AM

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