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High Court Limits Witness Comments

January 11, 1995| From a Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Tuesday limited the use of out-of-court statements in federal trials, ruling that juries should not be told about most past statements made by a witness who had a reason to lie.

Otherwise, "the whole emphasis of the trial could shift to the out-of-court statements, not the in-court ones," said Justice Anthony M. Kennedy for a 5-4 majority in the case (Tome vs. United States, 93-6892).

If a witness made a statement long in the past, his or her words can be used in court to rebut the claim that he is lying now, the court said.

However, most recent statements should be excluded to avoid the possibility that they were merely attempts to bolster a lie, the justices said. Tuesday's ruling interprets the federal rules of evidence and its conclusion does not directly govern most criminal cases, which are tried under state law.

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