Any disability in the physical condition of a witness does not render the witness incompetent. Generally, witnesses are taken as they are found. The testimony of a witness will not be excluded because the witness has a hearing disability[i]. Even though there is a need for questions to be repeated to the witness, if the witness’s answers were responsive to the questions, the witness cannot be excluded only on the basis of a hearing incapacity of the witness. However, if the incapacity is of a higher level and the witness is not able to give relevant or responsive answers to the questions, the jury has the discretion to decide upon the weight of the witness’s testimony[ii]. If there is a failure to provide a competent interpreter, it will render the subsequent testimony incompetent because the witness can not have comprehended the oath administered to him/her. If the witness can communicate without help of an interpreter, the witness will be considered competent to testify[iii]. The opposing party in a case can request a written charge to the jury to consider the disability of the witness while giving weight to the evidence.
A witness cannot be considered incompetent because the person is deaf and mute. If the witness is capable to communicate by another method the witness will be considered competent[iv]. If the person has sufficient mental capacity to observe the matters that they testify and to appreciate the obligation of an oath the evidence of the deaf and mute person will be considered valid evidence.
In some states, statutes authorize the trial judge to furnish an interpreter to a party or a witness[v]. This should be considered by the counsel for a deaf-mute party who is seeking to introduce the testimony of a deaf-mute witness. Trial court will have the discretion to determine the qualifications of a deaf-mute witness to testify and the selection and qualification of the interpreter. This is because the trial court has the opportunity to observe the witness and the interpreter, in the presence and hearing of the interested parties and their counsel.
If there is an opposition by the other party, the courts should determine if a deaf-mute witness can communicate at all, the clarity of the communication, who can understand the communication, and by which method of communication an interpretation is most likely to produce a fair and honest presentation of the witness’s testimony[vi]. When confusion arises from the use of sign language to communicate with a deaf and mute, it affects the weight and not the admissibility of the evidence.
A witness can be admitted even if the person was in an intoxicated state at the time when the event in question before the court happened. However, the person should not be virtually unconscious because of intoxication. Individuals intoxicated at the time they are offered as witnesses are excluded from testifying. The competency of the witness who was intoxicated is determined by the discretionary authority of the trial court. The degree of intoxication is determined by the trial court for deciding the competency of the witness.
Drug use will not render a witness incompetent. Drug addiction is also not a reason to question the admissibility of a witness. A person addicted to the use of opium, morphine, or a similar drug, or under the influence of such a drug at the time of the event in question or when the person was about to testify, will not be incompetent to testify. However, use of the drug will affect the credibility and weight of the person’s testimony. Addiction to narcotics will not curtail the presumption of competency of an addicted person to give testimony when the witness understands the nature of the oath and demonstrates the mental capacity to observe, recollect, and narrate the matters seen and heard.
The mental disorder or deficiency of a drug addict will call for disqualification of the witness. This is because it can affect the witness’s ability to receive, remember, and narrate impressions, and the person’s sensitivity to the obligation of an oath.
[i] Geiger v. Pfizer, Inc., 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 34982 (S.D. Ohio Apr. 15, 2009).
[ii] Crawford v. State, 282 Md. 210 (Md. 1978).
[iii] Burgess v. State, 256 Ala. 5, 8 (Ala. 1951).
[iv] People v. Spencer, 119 Ill. App. 3d 971 (Ill. App. Ct. 1st Dist. 1983).
[v] Kley v. Abell, 483 S.W.2d 625 (Mo. Ct. App. 1972).
[vi] Bugg v. Houlka, 122 Miss. 400 (Miss. 1920).