Recently, a state appellate court issued an opinion dealing with the admissibility of a defendant’s prior record. Not surprisingly, whether the prosecution will use the defendant’s past convictions against them at trial is a common question for defendants facing Arizona criminal charges. In any criminal case, the rules of evidence govern what evidence is admissible. Under Arizona Rule of Evidence 609, a party’s past conviction is only relevant – and only admissible – in limited situations. It is important that those facing serious charges understand how Rule 609 works.
First, it is important to understand that, generally speaking, a defendant’s prior record is not relevant to a current case. However, if the defendant decides to testify, they then become a witness. Rule 609 governs when any witness can be impeached by their past criminal convictions. Thus, while Rule 609, as discussed in this context, applies to criminal defendants, the rule applies equally to non-defendant witnesses.
For a prior conviction to be admissible, it must meet several criteria. In part, admissibility depends on the type of crime that was the subject of the prior conviction. For crimes punishable by “death or by imprisonment for more than one year,” the conviction must be admitted if the conviction’s probative value outweighs its prejudicial effect to the defendant.