Certain criminal convictions can be used to attack the credibility of witnesses during trial. It is commonly referred to a impeachment evidence. In some trials , it is who the judge or jury believes that makes the difference. In many cases such as a domestic violence charge, no one witnesses the alleged charge except the parties.
Last week , I tried a domestic violence case in Davidson County General Sessions Court where the entire case was based on the credibility of the witnesses. One of the key witnesses for the government had a criminal conviction for thief which is a crime of dishonesty . A theft conviction can be used to attack the credibility of a witness.
The procedure is governed by Rule 609 of the Tennessee Rules of Evidence. The general rule is the crime must be punishable by death or imprisonment in excess of on year (felony) under the law which the witness was convicted or , if not so punishable , the crime must have involved a dishonesty or a false statement.
The lesson is to run a criminal background check on all witnesses. it is great trial theater when the witness either admits to thief or denies it when you have a certified copy of the conviction if they deny the conviction.
In this case , the witness admitted the theft . Credibility was on the table . Result not guilty. So the teaching point is to run the records of both side’s witnesses . Have the rule ready . Be prepared to win and be prepared to argue the rule.