According to Dictionary.Law.com, impeachment is defined as the process of discrediting a witness by proving that he or she has not told the truth or has been inconsistent, by introducing contrary evidence, including statements made outside of the courtroom in depositions or statements of the witness heard by another. Impeachment evidence can also be used to attack the credibility of a witness at trial.
Are Criminal Convictions Admissible Impeachment Evidence?
In some states, criminal convictions may be admissible impeachment evidence used to determine the credibility of a witness. Criminal convictions do not always destroy a witness’s credibility entirely, but if admissible, criminal convictions can be used to weigh the credibility of a witness’s testimony.
In Nevada, evidence of criminal convictions is only admissible if the crime was punishable by death or imprisonment for more than one year, or otherwise, a felony. Misdemeanor arrests and convictions are not ordinarily admissible, even for the limited purpose of attacking a witness’s credibility.
Generally, evidence of prior felony convictions, of ten years or less, is admitted into evidence if the underlying crime reflects untruthfulness. However, a trial court has the discretion to exclude evidence of a felony conviction if its probative value is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice, confusion of the issues, or misleading the jury. Any party seeking to impeach a witness must produce a judgment of the conviction.
Prior Bad Acts Evidence
Evidence of crimes, prior un-convicted bad acts, or other wrongdoings may also be admissible as a prior bad act. However, there is a presumption of inadmissibility for prior bad act evidence. Any such evidence is inadmissible if the purpose is to prove the character of a person when his or her character is not in issue. Prior bad acts may be admissible for other purposes, such as proof of motive, opportunity, intent, preparation, plan, knowledge, identity, or absence of mistake or accident. The party offering the prior bad acts evidence must demonstrate that the act is proven by clear and convincing evidence and the probative value of the evidence is not substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice.
While misdemeanor convictions are inadmissible for impeachment purposes in Nevada, a witness may be cross-examined regarding a prior misdemeanor conviction involving dishonesty, but outside or extrinsic evidence may not be introduced into evidence.
Are Plea Discussions in Criminal Cases Admissible in Civil Cases?
In some states, such as California, the following plea discussions are inadmissible in criminal and civil cases:
- Offers to plead guilty
- Withdrawn guilty pleas
- Nolo contendere pleas
- Any statements of fact made during the above plea discussions
However, any guilty pleas that are not withdrawn are admissible in subsequent civil litigation based on the same facts presented in the criminal case, under the party admission exception.
In Nevada, the following are inadmissible in criminal cases involving the defendant who made the plea, but admissible in a civil case:
- Withdrawn guilty pleas
- Guilty but mentally ill
- And any related plea offers
Nolo contendere and offers to plead nolo contendere are inadmissible against the defendant who made the plea in criminal and civil cases.
Thanks to Eglet Adams, for their insight on impeachment evidence. Eglet Adams has worked on many cases in a variety of areas of law, including representing clients involved in mass tort lawsuits. To better understand mass tort lawsuits reach out to Eglet Adams and its mass torts lawyers.