Shortly after the trial begins, one or both of the parties request the Rule. The sequestration rule is simply that the witnesses are excluded from the courtroom until it is their turn to testify. the sequestration rule is a bedrock principle of the criminal justice system to insure a fair trial. The sequestration rule was Incorporated by the Tennessee Rules of Evidence years ago. Here is Rule 615 of the Tennessee Rules of Evidence:
Rule 615: Exclusion of witnesses.
At the request of a party the court shall order witnesses, including rebuttal witnesses, excluded at trial or other adjudicatory hearing. In the court’s discretion, the requested sequestration may be effective before voir dire, but in any event shall be effective before opening statements. The court shall order all persons not to disclose by any means to excluded witnesses any live trial testimony or exhibits created in the courtroom by a witness. This rule does not authorize exclusion of (1) a party who is a natural person, or (2) a person designated by counsel for a party that is not a natural person, or (3) a person whose presence is shown by a party to be essential to the presentation of the party’s cause. This rule does not forbid testimony of a witness called at the rebuttal stage of a hearing if, in the court’s discretion, counsel is genuinely surprised and demonstrates a need for rebuttal testimony from an unsequestered witness.
Tennessee’s sequestration rule does allow some exceptions to the general rule of exclusion of the witnesses. One key exception is that a person can be present if that person is essential to the preparation of the case. Normally experts are allowed to sit in the trial.
The Tennessee District Attorney’s conference is seeking to dramatically change the question rule in Tennessee. The District Attorney’s Conference is seeking to allow the chief law enforcement officer to sit in the trial. and listen to all the testimony before being called, It is similar to looking at all the answers on a test then being allowed to take the test.
The government’s goal should be to ensure a fair playing field. Rule 615 of the Tennessee Rules of Evidence has been the law of the land for decades. It should not be tinkered with lightly. It makes the district Attorney’s job easier and gives the prosecutor a distinct advantage.
Please let your voice be heard and contact a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee to protect one’s right to a fair trial. Here is a link to the members of the committee if you wish to contact them.