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Turner v. American Security & Trust Co., 213 U.S. 257 (1909)

Turner v. American Security and Trust Company

No. 101

Argued March 9, 10, 1909

Decided April 5, 1909

213 U.S. 257


Where the issue is whether a person is of sound or unsound mind, a lay witness who has had an adequate opportunity to observe the speech and conduct of that person may, in addition to relating the significant instances of speech and conduct, testify to the opinion formed at the time of observation as to the mental capacity of such person.

While a general rule cannot be framed for all cases, and in clear cases of abuse the appellate court should reverse, the determination of whether a witness is qualified to state his opinion as to the mental

Page 213 U. S. 258

condition of a testator is for the trial judge who has all the evidence and the witness before him, and in this case the trial judge does not seem to have abused his discretion as to the admission of testimony.

Evidence as to an alleged delusion of testator thirty years before execution of the will held to be properly excluded both because of remoteness and of the tendency to raise a collateral issue as to whether the statements connected therewith were or were not actually false.

Where the wife as caveator attacks testator's soundness of mind because he referred to himself at times as a widower and at times as divorced, an agreement of separation and a deed referring to himself as widower, admitted solely to explain why testator so referred to himself, held competent for that purpose, but evidence by the wife as to her reasons for signing the agreement and other instruments, in which she joined with her husband as his wife, were properly excluded.

The admission of incompetent evidence is not reversible error if subsequently it is distinctly withdrawn from the jury, and so held in this case where a letter was erroneously admitted but the presiding judge at request of the party objecting to its admission, instructed the jury that nothing in such letter was to be taken as evidence of truth of the statements therein or even to be used for purposes of cross-examination.

29 App.D.C. 460, affirmed.

The facts, which involve the validity of the will of Henry E. Woodbury, are stated in the opinion.

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