Can Florida Prosecutors Use Your Criminal History Against You in Court?

A criminal record can make life complicated, including by making it tough to find or keep a job. Past criminal convictions can in some cases also come back to haunt you if you’re ever charged with a new crime. Although there are important limits on the use of prior criminal acts – old crimes can’t generally be used to prove that you committed new crimes – there are also some exceptions. That includes when a criminal defendant testifies on his own behalf at trial. Florida’s Fifth District Court of Appeal recently explained how criminal records can be used to try to impeach the testimony of a defendant in a Florida criminal case.

Legal News GavelA defendant was charged with aggravated assault on a pregnant person. When he took the witness stand in his own defense at trial, prosecutors attempted to discredit him by introducing evidence of three previous convictions for burglary of a dwelling, grand theft, and petit theft. The prosecutor asked him if he had been previously convicted of a felony, and he answered that he had been convicted twice. He also responded to a separate question that he had two convictions for crimes involving dishonesty.

The court said the defendant’s answers were accurate. The burglary and grand theft convictions were for felony offenses. The grand theft and petit theft convictions were for crimes involving dishonesty. But after the defendant was convicted on the aggravated assault charge, he appealed the decision. He said the prosecutors asked the questions in a way that wrongly made it seem to the jury like he was lying about his previous convictions. The Fifth District disagreed.

“Although the questions could have been more precise, it does not appear that the prosecutor intended to mislead the jury,” the court said. “Nor do we believe that the testimony, to which there was no objection, rises to the level of fundamental error.”

The court explained that a fundamental error is a mistake that “reaches down into the validity of the verdict itself” in a way that the verdict could not have been reached without the error. In this case, however, the court said the state prosecutor mentioned the defendant’s criminal history briefly and in passing during closing arguments in the trial. He didn’t, according to the court, mention the number of the defendant’s prior convictions.

As a result, the Fifth District affirmed the conviction.

If you or a loved one has been charged with aggravated assault or a wide range of other crimes in the state of Florida, it is essential that you seek the advice and counsel of an experienced attorney. Tampa criminal lawyer Will Hanlon is a seasoned attorney who will fight aggressively on behalf of clients who have been charged with a wide range of offenses. Call our offices at (813) 228-7095 or contact us online to speak with Mr. Hanlon about your case.

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