Sequestration means to move apart or separate witnesses. The accused should motion the court to sequester the prosecution witnesses to avoid the witnesses from changing their testimony to align with the previous testimony. Sequestration means that the prosecution witnesses remain outside the courtroom and further that they are ordered to refrain from discussing their testimony or recollection of events with other witnesses. By sequestering the witnesses, the risk of fabrication and collusion of testimony is significantly reduced. In the state of Pennsylvania, sequestration is within the discretion of the court. This means that a court is not mandated to grant a request for sequestration; however, most often a judge will grant the defense motion for sequestration and the accused can challenge the judge’s decision to deny a motion for sequestration at a later time. Pennsylvania Rule of Evidence 615 states that “at the request of a party or on its own motion, the court may order witnesses sequestered so that they cannot learn of the testimony of other witnesses.” Rule 615 does not allow a court to sequester all witnesses. Rule 615 distinguishes other witnesses from “a person whose presence is shown by a party to be essential to the presentation of the party’s case.” Pennsylvania courts have interpreted this phrase to include law enforcement officers and judges routinely allow police witnesses to remain in the courtroom. The judges reasons that these officers are the most knowledgeable about the criminal case and therefore provide invaluable assistance to the prosecutors. 

If witnesses violate an order for sequestration, judges have several options for sanctions available to them. The most stringent remedy is to order a mistrial of the entire trial. Judges will only use this option when the disobedience resulted in a substantial risk of prejudice to the defendant. Judges can also forbid the witness from testifying completely. Judges tend to utilize this option when a witness intentionally disobeyed their order. If the witness has already testified and the judge does not believe that the effect of the misconduct warrants a mistrial, the judge can cure the risk of misleading the jury by instructing the jury. The judge may tell the jury to disregard the testimony of the disobeying witness completely or give the jury cautionary instructions to consider the testimony for what they believe it is worth after knowing that the witness had colored his or her testimony after hearing the testimony of other witnesses who testified before them. Of course the judge can additionally hold the disobeying witness responsible by finding them in contempt of court and requiring them to sit in jail or pay a fine to the court.


Contact Us

Erie

5148 Peach Street, Suite 330
Erie, PA 16509
814.824.6670

Meadville

Parkside Commons
847 N. Main Street, Suite 003B
Meadville, PA 16335
814.547.5920

Pittsburgh

4981 McKnight Road #101548
Pittsburgh, PA 15237
412.532.8222

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.