Law School Case Brief
State v. Oswalt, 62 Wash - 2d 118, 381 P.2d 617 (1963)
It is a well recognized and firmly established rule in this jurisdiction, and elsewhere, that a witness cannot be impeached upon matters collateral to the principal issues being tried. The purpose of the rule is basically two-fold: (1) avoidance of undue confusion of issues, and (2) prevention of unfair advantage over a witness unprepared to answer concerning matters unrelated or remote to the issues at hand.
During his trial on criminal charges, Defendant introduced an alibi defense. The alibi witness testified that the Defendant was in another state at the time of the offense. On cross-examination, the witness testified that Defendant had been there for the last couple months. The State called a rebuttal witness who testified that Defendant was in the city where the offense occurred one month prior to the offense. Defendant challenged his conviction claiming error in the admission of the rebuttal testimony because the evidence constituted impeachment on a collateral matter.
Was the profferred rebuttal testimony forbidden impeachment on a collateral matter?
The Court reversed the judgment holding that the Defendant sought to prove he had not been in the city at the time of the offense, not that he had not been there prior to such date. Thus, for purposes of impeaching the witness, whether the defendant was in the city on a given occasion one month prior to the offense was irrelevant and collateral, and thus, constituted a prejudicial error.
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