Sequestration of Witnesses

Except as indicated, all indented material is copied directly from the court’s opinion.

Opinions of the Tennessee Supreme Court

Opinions of the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals

State v. Johnson, No. E2022-00302-CCA-R3-CD, p. 22 (Tenn. Ct Crim. App. Mar. 20, 2023).

An appellate court will not revisit the issue in the absence of an abuse of discretion and prejudice to the complaining party. Id. at 424-25.


State v. Burgins, No. E2021-00620-CCA-R3-CD, p. 30 (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. June 28, 2022). 

The purpose of the sequestration rule, codified as Rule 615 of the Tennessee Rules of Evidence, “is to prevent one witness from hearing the testimony of another and adjusting his testimony accordingly.” State v. Harris, 839 S.W.2d 54, 68 (Tenn. 1992) (citing Smith v. State, 554 S.W.2d 648, 651 (Tenn. Crim. App. 1977)). The rule provides, in pertinent part:

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.

Tenn. R. Evid. 615 (emphasis added). The Advisory Commission Comments to the 1997 Amendment specify that “[a] ‘party that is not a natural person’ includes … the State of Tennessee. Consequently, the prosecuting attorney could designate a crime victim, a relative of the crime victim, or an investigating officer. Like category (1), category (2) is a matter of right.” For a defendant to be granted appellate relief based upon a Rule 615 violation, the defendant must demonstrate that a witness improperly changed his or her testimony after hearing other witnesses’ testimony. State v. Sexton, 724 S.W.2d 371, 374 (Tenn. Crim. App. 1986); see State v. Michael Presson, No. W2012-00023-CCA-R3-CD, 2014 WL 1669860, at *21 (Tenn. Crim. App. Apr. 24, 2014).


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