Citation. United States v. Lightly, 677 F.2d 1027, 1982)
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Brief Fact Summary.
Terrance McKinley, an inmate in Virginia, was stabbed during an assault in his cell, and fellow inmates Randy Lightly, Defendant, and Clifton McDuffie were investigated. Defendant was the only one formally charged.
Synopsis of Rule of Law.
Witnesses are presumed competent to testify unless the witness does not have personal knowledge, does not have the capacity to recall, or does not understand the obligation to tell the truth.
Terrance McKinley, an inmate in Virginia, was stabbed during an assault in his cell. Fellow inmates Randy Lightly, Defendant, and Clifton McDuffie were investigated. Defendant was the only one formally charged. McDuffie was found incompetent to stand trial by a court appointed psychiatrist. Defendant was convicted of assault with intent to commit murder and sentenced to ten years in prison. Defendant claimed that he observed McKinley and McDuffie fighting and he tried to stop it. He was corroborated by three other inmates. Defendant sought McDuffie’s testimony but the court ruled that he was incompetent to testify.
Did the trial court improperly not allow McDuffie to testify?
Justice Ervin issued the opinion for the United States Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in reversing the conviction and holding that McDuffie should have been allowed to testify.
The Court of Appeals excluded McDuffie from testifying without conducting an in camera examination. Further, his psychiatrist indicated that he understood the oath, could communicate what he saw, and had sufficient memory. McDuffie’s testimony could have corrobated Defendant and should have been allowed.