Past Recollection Recorded

March 4, 2014 § Leave a comment

We talked in a post here last week about how to cope with the forgetful witness. That post focused on refreshing the present recollection of a witness with a writing or other object per MRE 612. Once the witness’s ability to recall has been restored, the witness may then go forward with his testimony. 

But how does one handle the case where the witness simply has no present recollection whatsoever, even after your best effort under MRE 612?

Well, if the witness has no recollection whatsoever, the witness should be excused, because he does not meet at least one of the most basic criteria of a competent witness, which are the ability to recall and relate truthfully. MRE 601, 602, 603; See, e.g., Goforth v. State, 70 Miss.3d 174 (Miss. 2011).

If, however, the witness once did have personal knowledge, but now has insufficient recollection, and there is a record made or adopted by the witness while the matter was fresh on his mind, MRE 803(5) gives you a way to get those matters before the court.

Here are the steps:

  1. Establish that the witness once had personal knowledge of the matter, but now has insufficient recollection to testify independently, fully and accurately. 
  2. Establish that there is a written or recorded record of the matter that was made by or adopted by the witness while it was within his memory and was within his knowledge.
  3. Have the witness confirm that it correctly reflects the witness’s knowledge at the time.
  4. Ask that the statement be admitted. If the court deems it admissible, then MRE 803(5) provides that it “may be read into evidence,” but it is not itself received as an exhibit unless offered by an adverse party. This is a somewhat curious procedure, and I have never seen it done this way, but that is what the rule dictates.

An example of MRE 803(5) in action is where a physician is called as a witness to testify about a person’s physical and medical condition when the doctor examined him. She has no independent recollection on the day of trial of this particular patient’s condition as it existed at the time in question, but she has her patient record, either dictated by her at the time or recorded by a nurse or aid and adopted by the doctor as an accurate reflection of the facts while they were fresh in her memory. See, e.g., Harness v. State, 58 So.3d 612 (Miss. 2009).

MRE 803(5) and 612 are two excellent tools at your disposal to overcome the dilemma of the witness stranded alone on the witness stand devoid of memory.

When a document is admitted into evidence, or the court overrules an objection allowing a witness to testify as to a particular point, all that means is that the information gets to the judge either in the form of something that the judge can look at and study, or verbally. Either way, when it is in evidence, it is fair game for the court to weigh and take it into account in its ruling. It’s your job to get those key items into the judge’s hands to look at, or into the judge’s ear.

When you quit thinking about the MRE as a collection of obstacles to the admission of evidence, and begin seeing them in terms of how they offer you many portals to the court’s consideration, you will find your trials a whole lot easier and more successful.

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