In every trial the testimony of witnesses must be taken in open court, unless otherwise provided by a statute or by rules adopted under 28 U.S.C. §§2072–2077.
(As amended Nov. 20, 1972, eff. July 1, 1975; Apr. 29, 2002, eff. Dec. 1, 2002.)
Notes of Advisory Committee on Rules—1944
1. This rule contemplates the development of a uniform body of rules of evidence to be applicable in trials of criminal cases in the Federal courts. It is based on Funk v. United States, 290 U.S. 371, and Wolfle v. United States, 291 U.S. 7, which indicated that in the absence of statute the Federal courts in criminal cases are not bound by the State law of evidence, but are guided by common law principles as interpreted by the Federal courts “in the light of reason and experience.” The rule does not fetter the applicable law of evidence to that originally existing at common law. It is contemplated that the law may be modified and adjusted from time to time by judicial decisions. See Homer Cummings, 29 A.B.A.Jour. 655; Vanderbilt, 29 A.B.A.Jour. 377; Holtzoff, 12 George Washington L.R. 119, 131–132; Holtzoff, 3 F.R.D. 445, 453; Howard, 51 Yale L.Jour. 763; Medalie, 4 Lawyers Guild R. (3)1, 5–6.
2. This rule differs from the corresponding rule for civil cases ( Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, Rule 43(a) [28 U.S.C., Appendix]), in that this rule contemplates a uniform body of rules of evidence to govern in criminal trials in the Federal courts, while the rule for civil cases prescribes partial conformity to State law and, therefore, results in a divergence as between various districts. Since in civil actions in which Federal jurisdiction is based on diversity of citizenship, the State substantive law governs the rights of the parties, uniformity of rules of evidence among different districts does not appear necessary. On the other hand, since all Federal crimes are statutory and all criminal prosecutions in the Federal courts are based on acts of Congress, uniform rules of evidence appear desirable if not essential in criminal cases, as otherwise the same facts under differing rules of evidence may lead to a conviction in one district and to an acquittal in another.
3. This rule expressly continues existing statutes governing the admissibility of evidence and the competency and privileges of witnesses. Among such statutes are the following:
U.S.C., Title 8:
Section 138 [see 1326, 1328, 1329] (Importation of aliens for immoral purposes; attempt to re-enter after deportation; penalty)
U.S.C., Title 28:
Section 632 [now 18 U.S.C. 3481 ] (Competency of witnesses governed by State laws; defendants in criminal cases)
Section 633 [former] (Competency of witnesses governed by State laws; husband or wife of defendant in prosecution for bigamy)
Section 634 [former] (Testimony of witnesses before Congress)
Section 638 [now 1731] (Comparison of handwriting to determine genuineness)
Section 695 [now 1732] (Admissibility)
Section 695a [now 18 U.S.C. 3491 ] (Foreign documents)
U.S.C., Title 46:
Section 193 (Bills of lading to be issued; contents)
Notes of Advisory Committee on Rules—1972 Amendment
The first sentence is retained, with appropriate narrowing of the title, since its subject is not covered in the Rules of Evidence. The second sentence is deleted because the Rules of Evidence govern admissibility of evidence, competency of witnesses, and privilege. The language is broadened, however, to take account of the Rules of Evidence and any other rules adopted by the Supreme Court.
Committee Notes on Rules—2002 Amendment
The language of Rule 26 has been amended as part of the general restyling of the Criminal Rules to make them more easily understood and to make style and terminology consistent throughout the rules. These changes are intended to be stylistic only, except as noted below.
Rule 26 is amended, by deleting the word “orally,” to accommodate witnesses who are not able to present oral testimony in open court and may need, for example, a sign language interpreter. The change conforms the rule, in that respect, to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 43.
Effective Date of Amendment Proposed November 20, 1972
Amendment of this rule embraced by the order entered by the Supreme Court of the United States on November 20, 1972, effective on the 180th day beginning after January 2, 1975, see section 3 of Pub. L. 93–595, Jan. 2, 1975, 88 Stat. 1959, set out as a note under section 2074 of Title 28, Judiciary and Judicial Procedure.