Can Prior Convictions Be Used as Evidence in a Criminal Trial?

Can Prior Convictions Be Used as Evidence in a Criminal Trial?

Typically, in a criminal trial, the prosecutor cannot present evidence of prior convictions to attempt to prove guilt by suggesting that the defendant exhibits a pattern of criminal behavior.

The issue of prior convictions being used as evidence generally only arises when the defendant chooses to testify. If this happens, the prosecutor can submit to the judge their intent to present past convictions as evidence. In most cases, they can only do so to question the credibility of the defendant. Had the defendant chosen not to testify on their own behalf, the question of their credibility would not be an issue during trial, and prior convictions may not be admissible.

State and Federal Limitations

When a defendant decides to testify, both federal and state laws place limitations on allowing prior convictions to be admitted.

According to the Federal Rule of Evidence (FRE), Rule 609, past convictions may be admitted to impeach a witness (the defendant) under the following conditions:

  • The crime was punishable by death or a prison sentence of greater than 1 year
  • The crime involved fraud or dishonesty

Prior convictions may not be submitted as evidence if the crime was pardoned, annulled, or the defendant was found not guilty or rehabilitated. Additionally, the FRE limits presenting a conviction that occurred more than 10 years before the present case as evidence. However, it may be presented if its ability to prove facts outweigh possible prejudices against the defendant.

Florida Statute §90.610 maintains provisions similar to those of the FRE. However, instead of a 10-year time limit, previous convictions are generally not admissible if their occurrence was “so remote in time as to have no bearing on the present character of the witness.”

Ultimately, if the defendant decides to testify, the judge will determine if a previous conviction is admissible. They will decide if the value of such evidence outweighs any prejudice that could occur should the past conviction be admitted. Typically, if the previous conviction was for a similar offense, the judge may decide not to allow it because it might cause jurors to assume that the defendant is guilty based on past behavior rather than on the facts of the present case.

Choose Law Office of Armando J. Hernandez, P.A. for Effective Legal Representation

Our attorney is dedicated to providing skilled legal counsel to individuals accused of various types of crimes. We will work closely with you to understand the facts of your situation and will advise you of your legal options should you have a past conviction.

Schedule your free consultation by calling us at (305) 400-0074 or contacting us online.

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