State v. Oswalt
62 Wn.2d 118, 381 P.2d 617 (1963)

  • Two armed robbers entered Goodell’s home near Seattle.  One of them took Goodell to his business and made him open the safe so he could steal all the money.  Then the men fled.
  • One of the men was identified as Oswalt, who was arrested and charged with armed robbery.
  • At trial, Oswalt called a guy named Ardiss to testify.  Ardiss testified that Oswalt came into his restaurant in Portland (hundreds of miles away) every day for ‘the last couple of months’ around the time of the robbery.
    • Oswalt called this witness to establish that he was in Portland at the time of the robbery.
  • In response, the prosecution called a Seattle police officer to testify that he had spoken with Oswalt in Seattle a month before the robbery, thereby impeaching the credibility of Ardiss.
    • Oswalt objected on the grounds that the testimony was inadmissible.
      • Oswalt never claimed that he hadn’t been to Seattle, so testimony impeaching someone else’s claim that he hadn’t been to Seattle was not relevant.
    • The prosecution argued that the police officer’s testimony helped to establish that Oswalt was in Seattle, and challenged the credibility of Ardiss.
  • The Trial Judge allowed the police officer’s testimony to be admitted.
  • Thee Trial Court found Oswalt guilty of armed robbery.  He appealed.
  • The Appellate Court reversed and remanded for a new trial.
    • The Appellate Court found that Oswalt used Ardiss’ testimony to establish that he was not in Seattle on a specific date, he did not contend to prove that he had not been in Seattle prior to such date.  Therefore, impeaching the witness on whether Oswalt was in Seattle a month prior to the robbery was irrelevant and collateral.
  • Basically, this case said that you can only impeach the credibility of a witness for statements they make that are materially relevant to the case, you can’t impeach them for collateral issues in an attempt to make them look like liars in general.
    • You can ask the witness about the matter, you just can’t introduce extrinsic evidence to show that they are wrong.
      • You can always charge them with perjury afterwards though.
  • This case was decided under the common law.  Today it would be governed by FRE 607.