Matthews v. State
In Matthews v. State, 611 So. 2d 1207 (Ala. Crim. App. 1992), the defendant was convicted of murder. Two police officers on patrol saw him and two other men approach the victim, who was sitting in a parked truck. A shot rang out and the three men fled.
The defendant admitted holding the gun that fired the shots, but claimed that the weapon had discharged accidentally. At trial, he sought to call one of the other men who had been present at the scene to corroborate his story.
After the trial court advised him of his Fifth Amendment rights and appointed counsel for him, the man informed the court that he would claim the privilege.
The trial court ruled that because the "'jury can draw no inference whatsoever'" from the invocation of the privilege, it would be inappropriate to have the witness take the stand for the sole purpose of making the invocation. Id. at 1211.
On appeal, the defendant argued that "his right to have a key witness testify in his behalf far outweighed the witness's right against self-incrimination." Id. at 1208.
The Alabama appellate court stated that it agreed, holding that the trial court had erred by failing to require the witness to take the stand:
While it is abundantly clear that a witness has the right to invoke the Fifth Amendment and refuse to testify, the witness must take the stand and have the questions posed before the Fifth Amendment can be invoked. In this case, the trial court should have required the witness to take the stand and have a question asked of him before it permitted the witness to invoke the Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination. Id. at 1212.