Brief Fact Summary. A four-year-old child wandered onto his neighbor’s property and was bitten by the neighbor’s Chow dog. There were no other witnesses to the incident.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. The competency of a child of mental immaturity to testify as a witness lies in the discretion of the trial judge, and a reviewing court will not disturb the ruling.
Issue. Did the trial court abuse its discretion in ruling that a four-year-old child was competent to testify?
Did the trial court commit reversible error by allowing the child’s mother to testify to the statement made to her by the child after the incident?
Held. A court of review will not disturb a trial court’s ruling on the competency of an infant to testify absent abuse of discretion.
While the evidence of the child’s statement to his mother was improperly admitted as impermissible hearsay, its submission to the jury does not constitute error of a prejudicial nature.
Discussion. An essential test of the competency of an infant witness is his comprehension of the obligation to tell the truth and his capacity of observation, recollection, and communication. The trial judge utilized this test.
The child’s statement to his mother was neither spontaneous, nor an impulsive exclamation, so does not come within an exception to the hearsay rule. However, the statement’s effect is not prejudicial because the child testified to the same events in court.