Mil. R. Evid. 610 prohibits using a witness’s religious beliefs to bolster or undermine their credibility.
But what about questions regarding whether a defendant had a “come to Jesus” moment after committing the crime charged? That was the question addressed by the Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee in its recent opinion in Pillars v. State, 2021 WL 57953 (Tenn. Crim. App. 2021).
Asks Prof. Colin Miller. He concludes that
The question(s) at trial and even the letters were not using the defendant’s religion to impair his credibility, i.e., to show that he was lacking in credibility as a witness because of his religion. Instead, that evidence went to show that the defendant was trying to find religion due to the acts he committed. Therefore, there were not grounds for a viable objection under Rule 610.
In United States v. Brown, 41 M.J. 1 (C.M.A. 1994), the court was asked to decide whether,
MILITARY RULE OF EVIDENCE 610 PREVENTS AN ACCUSED FROM PRESENTING EVIDENCE IN ORDER TO SHOW THAT HE DID NOT USE ILLEGAL DRUGS BECAUSE OF STRONGLY HELD RELIGIOUS BELIEFS AND PRACTICES.
In this case the CAAF held that it was error under the facts of the case. In their discussion they observed that “Appellant sought to admit evidence of his religious beliefs as part and parcel of his “good soldier” defense. The evidence was not proferred merely to show that appellant was a truthful witness; it was offered to show that drug use was inconsistent with appellant’s character. The evidence was not mere credibility evidence; it would have been admissible whether appellant testified.”
Compare United States v. Jorrell, 73 M.J. 878 (A.F. Ct. Crim. App. 2014); United States v. Hodge, No. 38563, 2015 CCA NEXIS 99 (A.F. Ct. Crim. App. Mar. 23, 2015), rev. denied 75 M.J. 8 (C.A.A.F. 2015); United States v. Felton, 31 M.J. 526 (A.C.M.R. 1990).