Question: What does a separation of witnesses mean in a trial?
Answer: The purpose of a separation of witnesses order is to prevent the testimony of one witness from influencing that of another. Once a separation of witnesses order is granted, the remedy for a violation of the order is a question left to the sound discretion of the court. The court has the power to exclude the testimony of a witness who has violated the separation order. However, disqualification of a witness is a drastic sanction due to the severe impact on the trial. This right is embodied in the due process requirement of the Fourteenth Amendment. Therefore, because a defendant has a constitutionally protected right to present evidence in his favor, exclusion of a defense witness due to a violation of a witness separation order is not always appropriate. Our supreme court stated: The rule … is that, where a party is without fault and a witness disobeys an order directing a separation of the witnesses, the party shall not be denied the right of having the witness testify, but the conduct of the witness may go to the jury upon the question of his credibility…. Therefore, since the jury is entrusted with the job of determining witness credibility, where the violation resulted from no wrongdoing on the part of the party calling the witness, judges should allow an offending witness to testify and then permit the other party to inform the jury about the witness’ misconduct.