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Bias of a witness is not a collateral issue and extrinsic evidence is admissible to prove that a witness has a motive to testify falsely. The law of evidence has long recognized that a cross-examiner is not required to "take the answer" of a witness concerning possible bias, but may proffer extrinsic evidence, including the testimony of other witnesses, to prove the facts showing a bias in favor of or against a party. Special treatment is accorded evidence which is probative of a special motive to lie for if believed it colors every bit of testimony given by the witness whose motives are bared. The second circuit follows the rule, applicable in a number of other circuits, that a proper foundation must be laid before extrinsic evidence of bias may be introduced.
Defendant was charged with the crimes of armed robbery and larceny, violations of 18 U.S.C.S. § 2113(a) and (b). At trial, the district court excluded, as collateral evidence under Fed. R. Evid. 613(b), proffered testimony by defendant's mother that went to the alleged bias of the government's chief identification witness. Specifically, defendant's mother would have testified that she was a long-time acquaintance of the witness, that she happened to encounter the witness while the mother was working as a nurse at hospital, and that the witness accused defendant of fathering the witness's child. Furthermore, the mother would have testified that the witness told her that when the witness's husband learned of defendant's alleged relationship with the witness, he beat the witness and broke her leg, necessitating the witness's hospital treatment. Defendant was convicted. On appeal, the defendant claimed that the district court erred by excluding evidence proffered by him as to possible bias on the part of the government's chief identification witness.
Did the district court err by excluding evidence proffered by defendant as to possible bias on the part of the government's chief identification witness?
On appeal, the court reversed defendant's convictions and remanded for new trial. The court ruled that the mother's proffered testimony was improperly excluded because evidence of bias was never a collateral matter. Moreover, the court ruled, the evidence not only intended to show bias but tended to show a motive for the witness to testify falsely.