Friday, September 18, 2009

The Oath of a Witness & Religious Belief

Quite in contrast to the Utah Court of Appeals in State v. Hall, 946 P.2d 712 (1997), the Massachusetts Court of Appeals in Commonwealth v. Murphy, 48 Mass. App. Ct. 143, 718 N.E.2d 395 (1999), generally threw cold water on the proposition that a witness' religious beliefs might be inquired into for the purpose of establishing that the witness appreciates the importance of telling the truth. However, the Massachusetts Court of Appeals concluded that any harm caused by such an inquiry was harmless because the witness, a ten year-old girl, said that her mother would "ground" her if she lied and the Massachusetts court felt that "[h]owever much the prosecutor may have wanted to persuade the jury that the complainant was to be believed because she was God-fearing, his attempt misfired. The witness was more concerned about displeasure and punishment by her mother than displeasure and punishment by God. This could not have been lost on the jury, and there was no reversible error."

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