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Court Decides if Prior Convictions Can Be Used to Impeach Defendant

This case is about an appellant who was adjudicated guilty, after a jury trial, for inciting a riot under Section 870.01(2), Florida Statutes (1981). A New York Criminal Lawyer said the appellant argued that the evidence presented by the prosecution was insufficient to support his conviction. Although the sufficiency of the proof presented a close question, after thorough review, the court held that the State did present a prima facie case and that a judgment of acquittal was not required.

The case however was reversed on the ground of evidentiary rulings as to prior convictions. The question concerns the impeachment of appellant under Section 90.610, Florida Statutes (1981), on the basis of two prior petit larceny convictions. The trial court ruled that these prior petit larceny convictions could be used for impeachment purposes and threatened to hold appellant in contempt if he took the stand and testified that he had not been convicted of a crime. Appellant did testify and on direct examination stated he had been convicted of a crime twice.

The old rules on Evidence provide that a witness was subject to being impeached with evidence of a prior conviction of any crime, excluding violations of a municipal ordinance. Jurisprudence prior to the amendment of the rules established that “a crime is a crime”. A New York Criminal Lawyer said the argument that discrediting crimes must involve moral turpitude was expressly rejected.

Section 90.610, Florida Statutes (1981), as amended, now provides:

90.610 Conviction of certain crimes as impeachment.–

(1) A party may attack the credibility of any witness, including an accused, by evidence that the witness has been convicted of a crime if the crime was punishable by death or imprisonment in excess of 1 year under the law under which he was convicted, or if the crime involved dishonesty or a false statement regardless of the punishment, with the following exceptions:

(a) Evidence of any such conviction is inadmissible in a civil trial if it is so remote in time as to have no bearing on the present character of the witness.

(b) Evidence of juvenile adjudications are inadmissible under this subsection.

(2) The pendency of an appeal or the granting of a pardon relating to such crime does not render evidence of the conviction from which the appeal was taken or for which the pardon was granted inadmissible. Evidence of the pendency of the appeal is admissible.

(3) Nothing in this section affects the admissibility of evidence under s. 90.404 or s. 90.608.

The foregoing amendments are identical with Federal Rule which has been uniformly interpreted as requiring that a conviction may not be used for impeachment purposes unless the prosecution demonstrates that the offense involved more than mere stealth. Elements of deceitfulness, untruthfulness, or falsification have been held necessary before the offense is relevant to credibility.

Jurisprudence dictates that when a statute is amended, the legislature intended the amended statute to have a meaning different from that accorded to it before the amendment. Further, a New York Drug Possession Lawyer said if a Florida statute is patterned after a federal law on the same subject, it will take the same construction in the Florida courts as its prototype has been given in the federal courts.

In light of these principles of statutory construction and the uniform construction given to Federal Rule of Evidence 609 by the federal courts, it can be concluded that the Florida Legislature intended a like interpretation for ยง 90.610(1), Florida Statutes (1978). Therefore, the court held that the simple crime of petit larceny may not be used for impeachment purposes unless the prosecution has demonstrated that such crime involves some element of deceit, untruthfulness, or falsification bearing upon the defendant’s capacity to testify truthfully.

A New York Sex Crimes Lawyer said the court also ruled that the trial court erred in ruling that appellant’s prior petit larceny convictions were admissible for impeachment without first requiring the prosecution to demonstrate that appellant’s prior convictions were crimes of dishonesty within the meaning of Section 90.610, Florida Statutes (1981). In the face of an objection from defendant the state should have been required to go forward with proof as to the nature of the prior misdemeanor convictions.

The appellant’s conviction was vacated and the matter remanded for new trial.

Our New York Petit Larceny Lawyers from Stephen Bilkis and Associates could establish your rights enshrined in the statute. It has convenient offices within New York Metropolitan area, including Corona, New York.

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