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Koeppel v. Bassett

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

February 27, 2015

DONNA KOEPPEL, individually, and as parent of Grace LaBruno, a minor, Plaintiffs,
v.
ANDREW BASSETT, individually and in his capacity as an Officer of the Township of Nutley Police Department, ERIC STABINSKI, individually and in his capacity as an Officer of the Township of Nutley Police Department, and TOWNSHIP OF NUTLEY, Defendants.

OPINION & ORDER

KEVIN McNULTY, District Judge.

Defendants have requested that the Court conduct a pretrial voir dire examination pursuant to Federal Rule of Evidence 104 to determine the competency of Grace LaBruno as a witness. See FED. R. EVID. 104(a), (c). Miss LaBruno, now eleven, is the daughter of plaintiff Donna Koeppel; she was three years old at the time of the arrest that gave rise to this case. The defendants have expressed a concern that Grace LaBruno's memory may not be reliable, or that it may have been influenced by conversations with her mother over the years. Defendants have not, however, offered psychological or other expert testimony as to the capacity of this child witness. At oral argument, defense counsel made it clear that the relief they currently seek is limited: only that the court convene an informal hearing in chambers at which the court would ask Miss LaBruno a handful of questions, preferably questions agreed on by the parties. Koeppel replies that defendants should have elicited evidence regarding competency during Miss LaBruno's deposition, and that all other matters may be handled in cross-examination.

I granted the limited relief requested by the defendants. I received from the parties an agreed-upon list of voir dire questions. On February 20, 2015, I met with Grace LaBruno, her mother, and all counsel. The session was conducted in chambers, but on the record. At the session, all sat at a conference table. I addressed the agreed-upon questions directly to Grace LaBruno, who was seated next to me, and followed up to a limited extent as necessary to develop her answers. The agreed-upon questions were these:

1. What is your name?
2. How old are you?
3. When is your birthday?
4. Do you have any brothers or sisters?
5. What are their names?
6. How old are they?
7. Do you have any trouble seeing? Glasses? Have you ever?
8. Do you have any trouble hearing? Have you ever?
9. Do you go to school?
10. What school do you ...

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