Prior convictions as impeachment in a criminal trial – Can prior convictions be used against a defendant at his trial? We answer this question in detail below. Like all of our blogs, this blog is intended for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for the advice and counsel of a criminal defense attorney.
Can prior convictions be used against the defendant during trial?
During the guilt/innocence phase of a North Carolina trial, prior convictions are not admissible as substantive evidence (evidence of guilt). However, most prior convictions that are not older than ten years old may be used against the defendant for impeachment purposes only and only if the defendant takes the stand.
The purpose of impeachment by evidence of conviction of a crime is to attack the credibility of a witness. The only way in which defendant’s prior convictions are admissible is if the defendant takes the stand in his criminal trial. All defendants have a Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, which means that a defendant can never be compelled to testify at his own criminal trial.
Which convictions are admissible for impeachment purposes?
Felonies, Class A1, Class 1, and Class 2 misdemeanor convictions committed within the previous ten years are admissible for purposes of impeaching a defendant who testifies in her own criminal trial. These convictions can also be used to impeach any other witness who testifies at trial.
Out of state convictions are admissible. PJCs are generally admissible. No contest pleas are admissible. Convictions that are currently on appeal but have not yet been reversed are admissible.
Which convictions are NOT admissible for impeachment purposes?
- Class 3 misdemeanors are not admissible
- Infractions are not admissible
- Juvenile adjudications are not generally admissible
- Convictions that have been pardoned or reversed are not admissible.
- Charges are not admissible (and charges are not convictions).
Prior conviction more than ten years old
Prior convictions that are more than ten years old are not generally admissible. However, such convictions are admissible if either A) the trial court finds that their probative value exceeds prejudice, the proponent gives timely notice, and the judge makes adequate findings; or B) the defendant opens the door to the evidence.
Scope of admissible evidence
If a conviction is admissible, generally the questioning must be limited to 1) the name of the offense; 2) the time and place of the conviction; and 3) the punishment imposed.
Prior convictions during sentencing
Prior convictions can (and will be) used against defendants during sentencing. Which prior convictions count toward sentencing and how each prior conviction is counted depends on whether the person is convicted of a misdemeanor or a felony.
If you have been charged with a crime in North Carolina or South Carolina and are need of a criminal defense attorney, contact us for more information.