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.
A 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.