In keeping with the speedy reputation of the court the McDonnell trial has progressed past Jury selection and opening statements and witnesses have started to take the stand.
Already there are signs that much of the witness testimony will be tainted by the time many of the remaining witnesses take the stand.
Drama from the witness stand
CBS6 television reporter Joe St. George is (nearly) live-tweeting the trial and reports to us this afternoon that the prosecution’s second witness, Cailin McDonnell Young broke down in tears on the stand. Shortly thereafter St. George relates this fact to Chris Young, Cailin’s husband, out in the hallway where he was waiting to testify, and that Mr. Young looked concerned.
How is Chris Young going to testify now that he knows this?
Purpose of a rule on witnesses
In most trials the court will issue what is called a rule on witnesses. A rule on witnesses forces witnesses to leave the courtroom, and prohibits those witnesses from discussing their testimony with anyone, as long as they may be called to testify. A rule on witnesses does not exclude the parties to the case from being present for the entire proceedings and does not prohibit counsel from being present. The rule on witnesses must be given to each witness for it to be effective. Usually the witnesses are gathered at the beginning of a trial and the rule is issued.
The purpose of the rule on witnesses is to assure the most honest and complete testimony from each witness by limiting false memories (fabrications), lies, and omissions from witness’ testimony.
I cannot find a reporter that acknowledges a rule on witnesses was issued, but I also cannot imagine a situation like this in which one would not be issued.
Policing a rule on witnesses will be nearly impossible
This trial is set to last over a month. There are over 100 witnesses. Most of the defense witnesses are not required to appear until mid August. Not having appeared, arguably those witnesses are not subject to a rule on witnesses until they do appear and are ordered by Judge Spencer. Media coverage will remain significant week after week and the vast majority of witnesses are involved politically and avid consumers of news. In this case we will likely have dozens of witnesses who will have knowledge of prior proceedings before entering the courtroom.
There are a few possibilities that could result from numerous witnesses having been tainted. In the most extreme (and unlikely) circumstances a mistrial will be declared. If we are very lucky, counsel will ignore the fact that witnesses may be aware of the nature of proceedings by the time they arrive on the stand. The most likely scenario is that witnesses will begin to be questioned on the stand about what they understand is the nature of the trial so far, and how that makes them feel. Wow, will that be boring.
And yes, prosecutors made a young bride cry about her wedding day.