Many men and women wonder why an individual arrested for a criminal offense probably would not testify in their own court trial. The most appropriate answer is that testifying can open the flood gates to virtually all kinds of detrimental evidence. Such evidence would otherwise be inadmissible. This dangerous step is designated “opening the door”. Whether or not a defendant’s past conviction is admissible in a brand new criminal case is determined by a variety of factors. These are the criminal offenses of which the defendant is currently accused, whether or not the defendant within the existing case testified in a prior case, as well as the purpose for which the conviction is asked to be admitted.
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In many situations, anytime a defendant loses at trial or takes a plea offer, a judge could very well use a defendant’s previous conviction to enhance the individual’s sentence. Theoretically, this doesn’t count as admitting the past conviction into evidence. The judge has not put the conviction on the record to determine whether or not the defendant committed the criminal offense within the existing case. The judge has the discretion to use a previous conviction to enhance the sentence for the defendant within the existing case. If the defendant goes to trial, the sentencing can occur separately from the trial. If the jury leaves before the sentence is imposed, they might never find out that the defendant had a past conviction.
In many situations, most notably DWI cases, a judge will likely be required by law to enhance a sentence if the defendant has a past conviction for the same type of criminal offense on their record. Generally, prosecutors are incredibly zealous. The State often seeks to introduce particularly old previous out-of-state convictions to encourage, or require, the judge to enhance a sentence. Many prosecutors also seek to introduce past convictions of significant out-of-state felonies to ask a judge to enhance a sentence.
Except in a few instances, a criminal defendant can often prevent admission of a previous conviction by refusing to testify at trial. Typically, when a prosecutor or a defense lawyer would like to introduce a defendant’s previous conviction, they need to notify the court, meaning the judge, of their intention. A prosecutor generally succeeds in getting a previous conviction admitted into evidence if the defendant makes the decision to testify or if the defendant decides to make their character an issue in their case. Generally, a prosecutor can’t introduce a criminal conviction to establish that the defendant has a bad character if the defendant hasn’t made their character an issue. Additionally, the prosecutor generally can’t introduce a criminal conviction to demonstrate that a defendant has or had a propensity to commit criminal offenses.
If the criminal defendant decides to testify, their previous conviction could very well become admissible for purposes of impeaching their credibility. This kind of impeachment asks the judge or jury to question the truthfulness of the defendant’s testimony. The general rule is in cases where a prosecutor or defense lawyer wants to use a previous conviction to impeach a defendant’s testimony, the past conviction has to be for a felony or a criminal offense involving dishonesty. This indicates that a defendant may perhaps not be impeached with a past conviction for a minor criminal offense, most notably possession of drug paraphernalia, which has nothing to do with dishonesty.
Whether or not the defendant makes a decision to testify, a judge won’t necessarily rule that a past conviction is admissible. A good number of courts use a balancing test to figure out if the past conviction will be admitted. The judge weighs the probative value of permitting the criminal offense to be introduced contrary to the prejudicial impact on the defendant. If the previous conviction is for a similar criminal offense, the judge could possibly determine that the risk is too great. Within these situations, the judge uses the reasoning that the jury will decide, “If this individual did it previously, this individual probably did it on this occasion.”
Usually, a prosecutor or defense lawyer can ask that a past conviction or set of convictions be admitted as evidence of motive, opportunity, intent, preparation, plan, knowledge, identity, or absence of mistake or accident.
Given that the admissibility of previous convictions is an issue of evidence, it becomes an issue of law. Constitutional amendments and proposed bills may affect the evidence rules. If you are defending criminal charges, it is imperative that you speak to a qualified criminal defense attorney. Austin Lawyer Charles Johnson is going to be able to evaluate your record and he will understand how the rules pertaining to past convictions might affect you. Lawyer Johnson is going to be able to advise you on the benefits and drawbacks of testifying. Only you can make the final decision.
Austin Criminal Defense Attorney: The Charles Johnson Law Firm
Should you have past convictions and have been arrested or are under investigation for a criminal offense in Texas, get in touch with Austin Criminal Attorney Charles Johnson ASAP – and protect your legal rights and reputation.
Austin Criminal Attorney Charles Johnson can be reached 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Contact us at 512-832-1200 or toll free of charge at 877-308-0100.
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