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giving an oath, Milwaukee criminal defense lawyer, appellate attorney, court testimony, taking an oathBy: Kenneth Baker

Joseph Jakubowski, notorious in Wisconsin last year for his 161-page handwritten manifesto he sent to President Trump, was in Rock County circuit court on January 28th on charges of burglary while arming himself, theft, and possession of burglary tools. In the course of the proceedings, he was barred from testifying as a witness in his own case because he refused to raise his right hand while being sworn in. While he promised to tell the truth, he nevertheless refused to raise his right hand. The trial judge thus barred him from giving testimony in front of a jury. This raises serious questions that could lead to an appeal; the main question being - is there an affirmative rule that forces witnesses to raise their right hands prior to giving testimony in court?

What about when the president or any federal officer is being sworn in to duty? What are the requirements that must be met? There is no constitutional requirement for any federal official—firefighter, ambassador, or President—to take the oath of office over a particular text or, in fact, over any text at all. President Theodore Roosevelt did not use a bible when he was sworn into office in 1901. Both John Quincy Adams and Franklin Pierce swore on a book of law with the intention that they were swearing on the constitution. In 1973, Henry Kissinger swore on a Hebrew bible while being sworn in as secretary of state. In 2006, Keith Ellison swore on Thomas Jefferson’s English translated copy of the Koran while being sworn in as America’s first ever Muslim congressman. In 2014, Suzi LeVine swore on an Amazon Kindle tablet showing the bible while being sworn in as Ambassador to Liechtenstein and Switzerland. It is clear that the use of a bible is not a requirement but is often the book that is used in swearing in ceremonies, less so in courtrooms.

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