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When Is a Defendant’s Prior Conviction Admissible in an Arizona Criminal Trial?

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.

The bar for admitting a crime involving dishonesty is much lower. In these situations, all that must be shown is that one of the elements of the prior crime requires the prosecution prove that the person committed the dishonest act or made a false statement.

There are slightly different rules for older convictions. If it has been more than 10 years since the defendant’s conviction, or their release from confinement, whichever is later, a conviction is only admissible if 1.) its probative value substantially outweighs its prejudicial effect, and 2.) the party seeking admission of the conviction gives the other side ample notice so that they can contest the admission of the evidence.

In the above-mentioned case, the trial court granted the defendant’s motion to keep out a 2014 conviction for domestic violence assault, a class six felony. However, the prosecution appealed, arguing that the trial judge applied the wrong standard when it granted the defendant’s motion. On appeal, the court agreed, noting that the lower court mixed up the standards for determining a prior conviction’s admissibility. Thus, the court reversed the lower court’s decision, allowing the prosecution to admit evidence of the defendant’s past conviction.

Have You Been Arrested for an Arizona Crime?

If you have recently been arrested and charged with a crime in Arizona, contact James E. Novak for assistance. These cases often can be won or lost based on the evidence the prosecution can present to the jury. Attorney Novak is a veteran defense attorney with extensive experience handling all types of serious criminal cases, including Arizona sex offenses, violent crimes, and more. He commands a deep understanding of the evidentiary rules governing Arizona criminal cases, and uses this knowledge to ensure his clients get the fair trial they are entitled to. To learn more, call 480-413-1499 to schedule a free consultation today.

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