I just saw the witness examination of the George Floyd case. The 18 year old female witness went on to ramble about how she felt so sorry for Floyd and that her father and brothers are all black just like Floyd.

Any reasonable person would agree that she is prejudiced and biased.

So then, what is the theory that justifies allowing prejudiced and biased witnesses to testify?

After all, prejudiced and biased citizens are not allow to serve as jurors.

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    The other side gets to cross examine. – George White Mar 30 at 18:41
  • It is up to the other side to object to a question or how the answer is. – Trish Mar 30 at 18:48
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    You realise that witnesses don't render the verdict, right? – Studoku Mar 30 at 19:32
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    Also, am I right in thinking that you're against cops being allowed as defense witnesses here? – Studoku Mar 30 at 19:37
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    Why would you prohibit a witness from testifying based on their bias? If someone walks into your house and shoots your child in the face, should we prohibit you from identifying the suspect because you're biased against the person who killed your child? – bdb484 Apr 1 at 2:09

Prejudice and bias goes to credibility

The trier of fact has to decide how much weight to give each piece of evidence including witness testimony. A clearly prejudiced or biased witness will, all else being equal, deserve less weight than a more unbiased or less prejudiced witness.

Or, at least, one who is less obviously biased and prejudiced - because everyone is biased and prejudiced. A witness who clearly and unequivocally declared their bias and prejudice probably deserves more credit than one who reveals it unwillingly during examination.

The witnesses you use are the people who were there - you don’t get to choose their character.

  • What use is a witness if they are inclined to lie? They may have been at the scene, but what good are their words if they will report from their imagination? Any witness that is inclined to lie is not only useless, but they are outright destructive. There is no theory that proves that cross examination will expose a lying witness. There is no theory that proves that just because a witness swore on the bible that they will all of a sudden tell the truth. No prejudice or bias has any place inside a courtroom. – free_lions_n_tigers_from_cages Mar 31 at 1:20
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    "The witnesses you use are the people who were there" -- That's really the main point. The witnesses are the witnesses. The court can call as many people as it needs to find 12 unbiased jurors, but for witnesses you're stuck with the handful of people who actually saw it. – cpast Mar 31 at 2:06
  • @ganidat that’s what the jury is for -to work out what they should believe and what they shouldn’t and everywhere in between. Also, banning bias and prejudice means barring humans including the jurors and the judge - no one is without these. – Dale M Mar 31 at 3:09
  • Good point about the witnesses just being who they are, whether a witness is a witness or not is a question of fact, whereas who ends up the juror is something that can be controlled. – Patrick87 Mar 31 at 14:47

Prejudiced and biased witnesses can be allowed because there are protections in place to prevent their bias and prejudice from negatively affecting the case getting a correct outcome. Consider:

  1. The jurors can hear what the witness says and make up their own minds about whether the witness is biased or prejudiced. One might expect reasonable jurors to give less weight to witnesses who are obviously biased or prejudiced. Jurors with bias or prejudice can make decisions that affect the outcome of the case without ever having to reveal their personal biases or prejudices.

  2. The defense gets to cross-examine biased or prejudiced witnesses and, provided the questions are reasonable, the witness can be required to provide an answer, even when the witness might prefer not to do so. Nobody gets to question the jurors and if the jurors make a bad decision on the basis of bias or prejudice, that decision stands and there's nothing the prosecution can do about it.

  3. If the bias or prejudice causes the witness to perjure himself or refuse to comply with the orders of the judge, the witness can be held criminally liable or in contempt of court and punished accordingly. Jurors can make their decision for any reason at all and simply refuse to disclose the true reasons for those decisions. There is nothing the court can do about a juror's decision based on personal biases or prejudices that the juror does not disclose.

These are some considerations which may help explain why the prosecution and defense might want to exclude jurors who are biased one way or the other - biased jurors, once selected, are basically free to exercise their bias without any repercussions whatever (at least, if they keep their biases or the influence of those biases on their decisions somewhat discreet).

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