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My chavrusa and I were going through Sanhedrin (40b) this evening, and the topic of how to get accurate statements from witnesses. Rashi mentioned the concept of moving the witnesses around in order to get them "confused" so that they'll state the truth:

כר״ש בן אלעזר. להטריחם דאמר (לעיל לף לב:) מסיעין היו את העדים ממקום למקום כדי שתטרף דעתן עליהן ויחזרו בהן׃

My chavrusa and I started talking about this practice, and we were wondering whether there is any recognition in the gemara that coerced testimony may not be valid. I'm familiar with the concept of "כפין אתו עד שאמר רצה אני", but I don't think this is similar... that concept is uniquely suited to situations where there is a mitzvah being done. Here, he is simply giving testimony about a case. Is there a parallel in halacha?

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Okay, but now doesn't the question sort of answer itself (at least as regards the case you mentioned)? Beis din isn't trying to coerce them into testifying, but on the contrary, into retracting their testimony. –  Alex Feb 24 '12 at 4:09
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@alex - Not really. The concept of "confusing them" stems from the assumption that in doing so, they'll tell the truth. This idea seems a little farfetched to my 21st century brain, so I was wondering whether the concept of "coercing" (i.e., "confusing") is discussed beyond this in halacha. –  eykanal Feb 24 '12 at 4:11
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Maybe it's not so much that they'll tell the truth in their confusion, but rather that if they're indeed lying, they'll have a harder time keeping their story straight, and so their untruthfulness will be exposed? –  Alex Feb 24 '12 at 4:14
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Incidentally, Rambam (Hil. Edus 1:4) states that the witnesses are to be "diverted from one topic to another" (Kesef Mishneh there points out that evidently Rambam understands the Gemara's ממקום למקום as meaning "from one topic to another" rather than "from one place to another"). This would make sense as a tactic to smoke out false testimony, because again it would make it hard for them to keep their stories straight. –  Alex Feb 24 '12 at 4:43
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I guess the theory is along the lines of Mark Twain's "If you tell the truth, you don't have to remember anything." (Then, too, Rambam might be talking here specifically about witnesses for capital cases - that's the context for the Gemara you quoted - and in that case we're more willing to take the chance that truthful testimony will be mistakenly discredited than that false testimony be accepted and an innocent person executed because of it.) –  Alex Feb 24 '12 at 14:39

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