The opinion of the court was delivered by: Glasser, District Judge:
The defendant Salvatore Fusco seeks an order directing a
mental examination of a major government witness, Dominick
Costa. His motion is predicated upon what he alleges to be a
pre-existing history of psychological disturbance and the
traumatic effect of bullet wounds to his head in which
fragments of bullets still remain. The motion was denied at the
commencement of the trial without prejudice to renew when Costa
was called. See, e.g., United States v. Khoury, 901 F.2d 948,
966 (11th Cir. 1990).
Although not clearly articulated as such, the motion will
nevertheless be regarded as raising two issues, namely, (1)
Costa's competence to testify, and (2) his credibility. As
regards the distinction between the two, United States v.
Ramirez, 871 F.2d 582, 584 (6th Cir.), cert. denied, ___ U.S.
___, 110 S.Ct. 127, 107 L.Ed.2d 88 (1989) is instructive. The
court there noted that the credibility of a witness is for the
jury to determine but the competency of the witness is for the
judge to decide. As to competency, that determination is to be
made in the context of Rule 601, Fed.R.Ev., which provides
Every person is competent to be a witness except
as otherwise provided in these rules.
In United States v. Khoury, supra, it was said that "the
Federal Rules of Evidence provide an initial presumption of
competence." 901 F.2d at 966.
As to credibility, the courts are virtually unanimous in
holding that district courts have wide discretion in deciding
whether witnesses should undergo mental examinations. See,
e.g., United States v. Fountain, 840 F.2d 509, 517 (7th Cir.),
cert. denied, 488 U.S. 982, 109 S.Ct. 533, 102 L.Ed.2d 564
(1988). The courts are also virtually unanimous in holding that
that discretion should be exercised sparingly. See, e.g.,
United States v. Ramirez, supra; United States v. Raineri,
670 F.2d 702, 709 (7th Cir.), cert. denied, 459 U.S. 1035, 103
S.Ct. 446, 74 L.Ed.2d 601 (1982). In United States v. Russo,
442 F.2d 498 (2d Cir. 1971), cert. denied, 404 U.S. 1023, 92
S.Ct. 669, 30 L.Ed.2d 673, reh. denied, 405 U.S. 949, 92 S.Ct.
930, 30 L.Ed.2d 819 (1972) the defendants asserted that the
government's star witness was a "pathological liar" and "a
liar, thief, cheat and perjurer." They strenuously argued that
the trial court erred in refusing to order a psychiatric
examination. In rejecting their argument, the court wrote:
Itkin may well have possessed all of these
characteristics and the Government may have been,
and probably was, following the precept "Set a
thief to catch a thief" but in cases involving
crime, the Government's witnesses are rarely
pillars of the Church. As long as the jury from its
observation has the opportunity to appraise the
credibility of the witness in the light of facts
impugning his veracity, this constitutes the
constitutional safeguard of a defendant's rights.
442 F.2d at 502 (emphasis added).
The courts are virtually unanimous too in holding that
psychiatric testimony regarding the credibility of a witness
will not be admissible. That view has been expressed in many
ways. In United States v. Fountain, supra, the court refused to
require a witness to submit to a psychiatric examination before
testifying and made this observation:
The district court was entitled to be leery of
both psychiatric examinations of witnesses and
psychiatric testimony about witnesses, because the
jury can observe for itself . . . the witness'
behavior. Criminal trials are complex enough
without turning them into collateral
investigations of the witnesses — investigations
that would not only drag out trials and confuse
jurors but also discourage people from serving as
In United States v. Eschweiler, 745 F.2d 435, 438 (7th Cir.
1984), cert. denied, 469 U.S. 1214, 105 S.Ct. 1188, 84 L.Ed.2d
334 (1984) the court reaffirmed its reluctance to encumber
criminal proceedings with psychiatric examinations of
witnesses, a determination that the court previously made in
United States v. Gutman, 725 F.2d 417, 420 (7th Cir.), cert.
denied, 469 U.S. 880, 105 S.Ct. 244, 83 L.Ed.2d 183 (1984).