E-Alert Case Updates
When in Doubt, Disclose Witnesses Under Rule 26(a) Rather Than Relying on Using Them at Trial Under the Impeachment Exception
Standley v. Edmonds-Leach
SUMMARY: Because the witness’s testimony was not confined to impeachment and because the outcome of the trial turned on the jury’s assessment of the credibility of Plaintiff and the Officer Defendant, the testimony of the relatively disinterested bystander witness likely influenced the outcome of the trial. Because that witness was not disclosed under Rule 26(a) prior to trial, and because the Court erred by permitting that witness to testify beyond the scope of impeachment, the appellate court reversed and remanded the case for a new trial.
In Standley v. Edmonds-Leach, No. 13-7104 (U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, Apr. 21, 2015), the Court emphasized that when in doubt, disclose witnesses pursuant to Rule 26(a) instead of hoping to sneak them in at trial for impeachment purposes, because that exception will be very narrowly construed.
In the case, Plaintiff accused a police officer of excessive force when she was forcibly removed from a public library. Unsurprisingly, Plaintiff and the officer disagreed on what happened. The officer’s counsel did not disclose any witnesses in discovery, but at trial sought to introduce the testimony of a library employee who witnessed the events for impeachment purposes. The district court allowed the testimony because that witness was not called solely to corroborate other evidence.
Judge Rogers’ opinion for the unanimous panel carefully distinguished between substantive evidence, “which is offered to establish the truth of the matter,” from impeachment testimony, and held that to be eligible for the impeachment exception to Rule 26(a), a witness’ testimony must “solely” be for impeachment—any further testimony would be impermissible.
Since the library employee was allowed to testify beyond areas of impeachment, the Court saw need to reverse and remand for a new trial.
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