Coles v. Harsch
129 Or. 11, 276 P. 248 (1929)

  • Coles and Harsch and their wives were part of the same social group.  Harsch had a propensity for engaging Coles’ wife in ‘wrestling matches’.
    • Coles did not approve of this behavior.
  • Eventually Coles’ wife left him and filed for divorce.
  • Coles sued Harsch for $50k, charging that Harsch had maliciously shown “improper affection” to Coles wife, resulting in her becoming alienated and leaving him.
  • At trial, Harsch called a guy named Thompson as a witness.  Thompson testified that Harsh wrestled with a lot of people’s wives and it was totally harmless.
  • Later, Coles testified that Thompson once told him that Harsch’s behavior was disgraceful.
    • Harsch objected on the grounds that the testimony was hearsay.
    • Coles argued that the testimony was meant to impeach the credibility of Harsch as a witness, not to prove the truth of the matter asserted.
    • Harsch argued that Coles never asked Thompson about the incident while cross-examining him, and therefore it was improper to introduce Coles’ testimony to impeach Thompson.
  • The Trial Judge allowed the testimony to be admitted.
  • The Trial Court found for Coles and awarded $17.5k in damages.  Harsch appealed.
  • The Oregon Supreme Court reversed.
    • The Oregon Supreme Court looked to Oregon State rules of evidence and found that in order to introduce a prior statement impeaching a witness, you must ask the witness about the alleged prior statement during cross-examination, and give them the opportunity to explain the prior statement.