Witness Refusing to Answer Questions on Cross-Examination - California Landmark Cases

The right to confront and cross-examine witnesses is essential to due process. (Chambers v. Mississippi (1973) 410 U.S. 284, 294.) Thus, in a criminal trial, a witness's refusal to submit to questions on material issues on cross-examination may be grounds for striking all or part of the witness's testimony. (People v. Price (1991) 1 Cal.4th 324, 421; People v. Seminoff (2008) 159 Cal.App.4th 518, 525.) In determining whether to strike a witness's testimony for refusal to answer questions on cross-examination, the court should consider the motive of the witness and the materiality of the answer. (People v. Seminoff, supra, 159 Cal.App.4th at pp. 525-526; People v. Reynolds (1984) 152 Cal.App.3d 42, 47.) Striking the witness's testimony is a "drastic solution, which is to be used after less severe means are considered." (People v. Reynolds, supra, 152 Cal.App.3d at pp. 47-48; Alternatives should be considered "when the witness has refused to answer one or two questions on cross-examination on matters that are collateral, such as credibility." (People v. Sanders (2010) 189 Cal.App.4th 543, 556.) Less severe means include striking a portion of the witness's testimony or informing the jury that the witness's refusal to answer questions may be considered in assessing the witness's credibility. (People v. Seminoff, supra, 159 Cal.App.4th at p. 526; People v. Reynolds, supra, 152 Cal.App.3d at p. 48.) The decision to strike all, part, or none of a witness's testimony due to the witness's refusal to answer questions is reviewed for an abuse of discretion, "and the refusal to answer only one or two questions need not lead to the striking of the testimony." (People v. Daggett (1990) 225 Cal.App.3d 751, 760; People v. Price, supra, 1 Cal.4th at p. 421.)