Houston Criminal Law Blog

EXPERIENCED. AGGRESSIVE. HOUSTON CRIMINAL DEFENSE LAW FIRM: The Law Office of Matthew D. Sharp

Witness Sequestration or Exclusion From the Courtroom

In a criminal trial, it’s imperative that witnesses do not influence each other’s testimony. In order to ensure this does not happen, a motion for sequestration is sometimes filed by one or both parties. This motion asks that certain witnesses not be allowed inside the courtroom until after they have testified. Sequestered witnesses are placed in a special holding area and then called into the courtroom by the bailiff.

A sequestration order can go one step farther than that, restricting individuals from talking with one another or reading statements that the other has provided. The goal of the court in eliminating contact between witnesses is to avoid having them collaborate with one another. In doing so, judges are hopeful that each one will provide an honest testimony. If the two testimonies conflict with one another, it will be left up to the jury as the trier-of-fact to determine which witness is the most credible.

Exceptions

Some witnesses are exempt from exclusion from the courtroom even though their testimony could be influenced by what others say on the witness stand. The defendant can never be excluded, even when he intends to testify on his own behalf. That’s because the defendant’s right to face his accusers is grounded in the U.S. Constitution, and these rights could be violated if he is excluded from the courtroom. Aside from the defendant, others could be allowed to remain during the entire proceedings. Some of these individuals include:

  • Expert witnesses: The legal system has determined that their professional opinions are based on their specialized knowledge rather than other facts of the case.
  • Lead investigator in the case: This person acts as the district attorney’s representative during the proceedings.
  • Victim: This varies from one jurisdiction to the next and can depend on the nature of the crime and that individual’s expected testimony. Judges may exclude a victim from the courtroom if it appears the defendant’s right to a fair trial may be impeded.

Violating a Sequestration Order

Witnesses who violate an order of sequestration can be charged with contempt of court. Defense attorneys can also ask for the violators’ testimonies to be eliminated. Lawyers can also ask that the jury be notified about the violation so they can determine whether or not the testimony is tainted. If it is discovered that a witness provided false testimony, that person could also face perjury charges.

Those who would like to know more about excluding witnesses can call Matthew Sharp at 713-868-6100.

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