Court Finds Questions About Victim’s Religion Violated Rule 610

Perhaps it was just an overly aggressive trial lawyer but questioning a witness’s religious convictions is almost unheard of. Until this:

By Evidence ProfBlogger

Federal Rule of Evidence 610 states that

Evidence of a witness’s religious beliefs or opinions is not admissible to attack or support the witness’s credibility.

A good example of a line of questioning that violates Rule 610 can be found in the recent opinion of the Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division in Grewal v. Greda, 2020 WL 2464760 (2020).

In Grewal, the New Jersey Attorney General and the Director of the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights brought a claim that the defendant violated the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination by inquiring about the religion of Fatma Farghaly, a Muslim woman, during her attempt to lease an apartment from him; by refusing to show or lease an apartment to her on the basis of her religion; and by making a statement concerning the gender of a Division investigator during the investigator’s inquiry about leasing an apartment from him.

During Farghaly’s testimony, defense counsel asked her questions, such as the following:

DEFENSE COUNSEL: Isn’t it true that the, that the Muslim practice of deception only, also implies, also applies and is prevalent in Islamic politics? Is it al …, doesn’t, not only does it apply to war, but it also applies to politics and other types of deceptions when you’re dealing with people of non-Muslim faith?

FARGHALY: That’s not true.

DEFENSE COUNSEL: Are you familiar with the Quran?

FARGHALY: Of course.

DEFENSE COUNSEL: 16:106 in the Teachings of Deception. Have you ever read that paragraph?

FARGHALY: In Arabic, not in English.

DEFENSE COUNSEL: You’ve read it?

FARGHALY: In Arabic, not in English.

Moreover,

The cross-examination about Islam did not end there. While questioning Farghaly about her income tax returns, defense counsel asked her to confirm the spelling of her accountant’s name, “F-A-R-E-S … K-A-D-A-N,” and then asked, “he’s Muslim too, right?” When he cross-examined Farghaly about treatment by her physician, defense counsel said, “and, just for the record, can you please pronounce his last name because I have difficulty with that name ….” Farghaly responded her physician’s name was “Elsharif,” and defense counsel asked, “Elsharif? He’s Muslim, too, as well?” Farghaly responded in the affirmative.

On appeal, the court found that

The cross-examination of Farghaly about the principles of her religion violated N.J.R.E. 610, which plainly and expressly provides “[e]vidence of the beliefs or opinions of a witness on matters of religion is not admissible for the purpose of showing that by reason of their nature the witness’s credibility is impaired or enhanced.”…

Defense counsel’s questioning about Farghaly’s religious beliefs and the principles in the Quran constituted a clear and direct attack on her credibility. Indeed, the questioning sought information that had no substantive, probative value to any factual issue presented in the matter. Through the cross-examination, defense counsel sought to establish the Quran, the religious text central to Farghaly’s faith, directed and condoned lying and telling falsehoods as one of its fundamental principles. The cross-examination further sought to establish Farghaly’s faith included another tenet showing a bias affecting her credibility as a witness—her religion required she view anyone who did not share her faith as an infidel.

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