I have a knack for being witnesses to accidents and have been called to court a few times as a crown (prosecution) witness.
Each time, I’ve been asked to wait outside the courtroom until I was called in as a witness. This is generally incredibly boring with little to do except talk to the other witnesses that are waiting their turn as well. I would have far rather waited inside the courtroom, but each time I asked to the prosecutor said I can’t as it may “taint” my testimony, or something along those lines. However, they had no problem with me observing in the gallery after I testify. Makes sense to me, I suppose.
*What is stopping me from talking to the other witnesses that are waiting outside the courtroom and bringing up topics that may taint testimony there? There is no officer or lawyer watching over us listening to what we say. FTR, I’ve never really talked about the case to other witnesses as we all kind of assume we shouldn’t.
*After I testify, I generally watch the rest of the proceedings in the gallery as I find them interesting. What would happen if somethng came up and a lawyer wanted to recall me as a witness after I’ve watched the case from the courtroom for 4-5 hours? Would that invalidate any ability to call me back?
In Texas (possibly elsewhere as well, but Texas is where I am), this is referred to in shorthand as “invoking the Rule”. The specific rule in question is Texas Rule of Evidence 614.
The way the rule is constructed, it really only serves to prevent witnesses from altering their testimony, consciously or subconsciously, to conform to what has already been presented in court. It appears that they’re not too concerned about what happens outside the courtroom, only that each witness, when called, will present his or her testimony without it being colored by hearing the testimony of other witnesses.
Remember, what’s actually presented in the courtroom is what matters. Suppose witness A says one thing outside the courtroom, but testifies to something very different in the courtroom; if you were in the courtroom to hear his testimony, you would know his story as he actually wanted it presented. Since you’re not, you don’t really know if what he told you outside the courtroom was all smoke and mirrors. By keeping those about to testify isolated, the court hopefully ensures that each person’s testimony is his own. As far as I know, nothing prevents you from talking to other witnesses outside the courtroom.
As for being recalled later, I have no idea. I would assume, however, that the Rule is meant only to protect the primary testimony of witnesses, and there would be no problem with being recalled later in a trial, even though you’d sat in the gallery and watched the rest of the trial.
Anyway. I’m a lawyer, but not YOUR lawyer, so don’t count on my flippant, off-the-cuff comments as legal advice. That goes for everyone reading this, ya wingnuts, ya.
Your conscience. Although it may not be strictly prohibited by the rules, as you’ve realized kibbutzing can defeat impartial testimony or influence witnesses’ recollection. In big-money cases, the judge or the attorneys might instruct the witnesses to keep quiet, and it would not be unheard of for a party to have an observer present to keep conversation to a minimum.
Also, often over here the judge will tell a departing witness not to discuss the case with anyone.
“Goes to weight!”
In most U.S. courts, the fact that you have observed other testimony in the case would not exclude you from taking the stand again, but the party that doesn’t like your later testimony would be free to argue that you were biased or confused by what you heard later and your new testimony is therefore untrustworthy (or less trustworthy than your original statements, if the new testimony favors a different side than originally). “Goes to weight” is shorthand for this idea that some factors may make testimony less trustworthy (and therefore deserving of less metaphorical weight in the jury’s consideration) without making it unarguably so untrustworthy that it should be excluded altogether.
I realize you don’t typically have juries over there, but I’d guess that the principle is the same.
I testified at the City’s annexation trial, but they did not “invoke the Rule” and I was allowed to hear several others’ testimony. I think that was because each was testifying to their knowledge; and since, for example, the Police Chief had nothing to do with Engineering I was allowed to hear his testimony.