Rambam Mishneh Torah Hilchos Eidus, Chapter 17: The criteria for admissible testimony

Chapter 17: the criteria for admissible testimony

Halacha 1: The prohibition against hearsay

  • It is forbidden for one to testify regarding a certain matter until he actually witnesses it either by seeing it with his own eyes or hears it it with his own ears.
  • Was told the information by great scholars: Even if many great and wise and God-fearing individuals tell him a certain matter, such as that an individual transgressed a sin or that an individual borrowed money from another individual, he may not accept it as truth and testify regarding it.
  • Is a false witness: A person who transgresses and testifies regarding hearsay, regarding a manner that he did not actually witness, is considered a false witness and transgresses the negative command against giving false testimony.
  • Testifying regarding an admission of the borrower: By monetary cases, it is not necessary to actually eyewitness the event, and hearing an admission from the borrower also suffices.
  • This however only applies if the borrower asked the individual to be a witness to his admission.

Halacha 2: Investigating that the witnesses are giving an eyewitness account

  • Investigating the testimony to negate hearsay: Being that hearsay testimony is inadmissible and forbidden even by monetary cases, therefore the judges must investigate the witnesses even by monetary cases to make sure that their testimony is based on their personal witnessing of the event and not based on hearsay.
  • Intimidating the witnesses against false testimony: The judges need to intimidate the witnesses against testifying based on hearsay, and explain to them the severity of being a false witness, and the punishments received in this and the next world.
  • Interrogating the first witness: After the intimidation, everyone with exception to the choicest of the witnesses is asked to leave the room, and the judges inquire from him as to how he came to determine the truth behind his testimony.
  • An example of the procedure by a loan case: For example, if the witness testifies that an individual owes money to another individual, the judges ask him as to to how he knows this. If he says that someone told him this, or that even the borrower himself told him this, his testimony is thrown out of court.
  • Only if he says that he and his friend were asked by the borrower to testify to the admission of the loan which took place in front of the lender, is his testimony acceptable.
  • After the interrogation of the first witness, the second witness is entered and interrogated in the same way.
  • Only if both testimonies match up, do we then use it to give a verdict.

Halacha 3: Testimony of admission heard over eavesdropping

  • An admission to the loan by the borrower to the lender which was heard by two witnesses in the form of eavesdropping, is not acceptable in court. The reason for this is because the testimony of an admission to a loan is only acceptable if the borrower who admitted to the loan was aware that there were witnesses present.
  • Thus, if the lender hid two witnesses to eavesdrop and hear the admission, it is invalid.

Halacha 4: The criteria for the acceptance of testimony of a confession

  • Testimony of a confession to the loan by the borrower is valid if the borrower stated to the witnesses in front of the lender that he borrowed from him, such and such amount of money.
  • Likewise, if the witnesses were told “you are my witnesses,” or “testify for me,” their testimony of the confession is admissible.
  • The above applies whether it was the borrower or lender who made the above statement to the witnesses so long as the borrower did not make a gesture of protest to the statement.
  • It goes without saying that if the witnesses were asked to document the admission, or to make an acquisition with the borrower who admitted to the loan, that their testimony is acceptable.

Halacha 5: Testifying on information one heard from one’s Rebbe

  • It is forbidden for a student to testify regarding a matter that he heard from his teacher on the basis that he does not believe his teacher would ever lie.
  • Thus, if a teacher told his student to testify on his behalf together with one more witness that an individual had borrowed money from him, it is forbidden for the student to testify even if the student knows that his teacher would never lie about such a thing, and if he does testify then he is a false witness.

Halacha 6: Pretending to be a witness to intimidate the defendant to confess

  • It is forbidden for one to stand next to a single true witness and pretend to be the second witness in order to intimidate the defendant into admission, even if he will not say anything at all.
  • On this the verse states that one must distance himself from falsehood.

  • A person who hires false witnesses: One who hires a false witness to testify against his friend is exempt from monetary liability in court although is held liable in the hands of heaven to reimburse the loss that he caused.

A person who refuses to testify: One who witnessed an event and refused to testify, hence causing a monetary loss to an individual, is exempt from monetary liability in court although is held liable in the hands of heaven to reimburse the person for the loss that he caused.

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