The trial binder is complete, the opening ready, the closing prepped and the jurors are in the jury box. It is time now to go through the process our justice system calls a trial. Both sides have a chance to present evidence – through the form of documents, exhibits and most importantly and commonly – witness testimony. But how are we able to show the jury that certain witnesses may not be credible? That some witnesses just shouldn’t be believed? Among many other things, one great way to attack a witness’s credibility is to elicit evidence of their prior convictions. But is it all of their prior convictions that we should/could introduce? No. Why? Because the crimes that Pennsylvania law permits for impeachment directly correspond with honesty. A good trial attorney will not miss a chance to attack a witness with an applicable conviction when they take the stand.
Under Pennsylvania Rule of Evidence 609(a) an attorney may attack the credibility of any witness, including the defendant with evidence that the witness has been convicted of a crime if it involved dishonesty or false statement. Pa. R. Evid 609(a). Therefore, under Pennsylvania Rule of Evidence 609(a) they shall be admitted to impeach the credibility when a witness chooses to, or does, testify at trial. See, Pa. R. Evid. 609(a
A prior crimen falsi conviction is per se admissible for impeachment purposes if the later of either the conviction date or the last day of confinement falls within 10 years of trial. See, Pa. R. Evid. 609; see also, Commonwealth v. Trippett, 932 A.2d 188 (Pa. Super. 2007).
When a prior conviction is older than 10 years old, that does not end the inquiry as to admissibility. They are per se admissible when the last date of confinement was within the past ten years. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has held that a crimen falsi conviction may be used to impeach the credibility of a witness if he has been confined for that conviction within ten years, even if the incarceration was due to recommitment for a parole violation. Commonwealth v. Jackson, 585 A.2d 1001 (Pa. 1991) (emphasis added).
Further, when there is confinement within the past ten years, it is not necessary for the trial court to engage in a case specific balancing inquiry as to admissibility. See, Commonwealth v. Jackson, 561 A.2d 335 (Pa. Super. 1989) affirmed, 585 A.2d 1001 (Pa. 1991).
Being a trial attorney takes skill, common sense, determination, and knowledge of the law. Being effective on cross examination is no different. When a witness has a crime of dishonesty on their record – a skilled trial attorney will know how and when to properly impeach their credibility.
The above listed information does not include the entire crimes code, annotations, amendments or any recent changes that may be relevant. The information provided is for informational purposes only and may not reflect the most current legal developments. These materials are not intended, and should not be taken, as legal advice on any particular set of facts or circumstances. It is intended solely for informational purposes.
Michael DiCindio is a West Chester criminal defense lawyer who represents individuals accused of crimes throughout all of Chester County, including West Chester, Phoenixville, Malvern, Coatesville, Paoli, Downingtown, Tredyffrin, West Goshen, Honey Brook, Oxford, Devon, Pottstown, Chesterbrook, Parkesburg, Kennett Square, and Avondale