Admission of Evidence of Prior Criminal Convictions Is Very Limited in Arizona Injury/Wrongful Death Claims
When an injured person makes a personal injury or wrongful death claim against the at-fault individual or business, the defendants will often try to attack the credibility of the injured person by attempting to admit evidence of the person’s prior criminal convictions. However, Arizona Rules of Evidence severely limit admission of this type of evidence and, with the right legal help, such evidence can often be excluded or limited.
Arizona Evidence Rule 609 – Limited Admission of Prior Criminal Convictions
Rule 609 of the Arizona Rules of Evidence governs the admission of evidence of a witness’s prior criminal conviction for the purposes of impeachment. Under Rule 609, crimes punishable by more than one year “must be admitted, subject to Rule 403, in a civil case.” Ariz. R. Evid. Rule 609(a)(1)(A). Additionally, evidence of crimes which require proof of a dishonest act or false statement must be admitted regardless of the punishment. Ariz. R. Evid. Rule 609(a)(2). However, Rule 609(b) also places a significant limit on 609(a)’s already-narrow allowances by limiting the use of evidence of convictions which occurred more than 10 years prior. Ariz. R. Evid. 609(b). Under Rule 609(b), evidence of prior felony convictions which are more than 10 years old may only be admitted if “its probative value, supported by specific facts and circumstances, substantially outweighs its prejudicial effect.” Ariz. R. Evid. 609(b)(1).
Arizona Evidence Rule 403 – Further Restrictions on Evidence of Prior Felonies
Even when Rule 609 appears to allow admission of prior conviction evidence, Rule 403 allows for the exclusion of relevant evidence where “its probative value is substantially outweighed by a danger” of unfair prejudice or other potential issues. Ariz. R. Evid. Rule 403. Rule 609 recognizes that the probative value of a witness’s prior criminal convictions with respect to their credibility lessens as the prior convictions become more remote in time. State v. Duarte, 246 Ariz. 338, 347 (Ct. of App. 2018). Convictions which are remote in time ‘should be admitted “very rarely and only in exceptional circumstances.”’ State v. Green, 200 Ariz. 496, 499 (2001). The party seeking to introduce the convictions bears the burden of demonstrating the exceptional circumstances. State v. Green, 200 Ariz. at 499. This means that it is up to the defendants to convince a judge that the prior conviction evidence should not be excluded. Arizona courts have stated that the party seeking to admit evidence of a prior criminal conviction bears the burden of demonstrating that the particular circumstances surrounding the conviction indicate that the conviction was one involving a dishonest act or false statement. See Duarte, 246 Ariz. at 346.
In determining whether a prior conviction is admissible under Rule 609, a court will look to the “statutory language of the underlying offense and whether the conviction required proof of a dishonest act or false statement.” Duarte, 246 Ariz. at 345 (quoting State v. Winegardner, 243 Ariz. 482, 13, 413 P.3d 683 (2018).). Arizona courts have consistently interpreted the phrase “dishonest act or false statement” very narrowly. See State v. Winegardner, 243 Ariz. 482, 486 (2018). The Arizona Supreme Court stated in State v. Winegardner that crimes involving “stealth, such as burglary, or force, such as robbery or assault, do not inherently demonstrate a trait of untruthfulness and should not be admitted.” Id.
Even If Evidence of Prior Felonies is Admitted, Courts Should Limit the Scope
Even if the court determines that a prior felony conviction may be admitted, Arizona courts have “consistently approved of sanitization as a means of limiting” the prejudicial effect of criminal convictions admitted for impeachment purposes under Rule 609. State v. Montano, 204 Ariz. 413, 426 (2003). The trial court may allow admission of the existence of a prior conviction without “disclosing the nature of the crime,” thereby reducing the risk of prejudice which may attend the conviction itself. State v. Smyers, 205 Ariz. 479, 482 (2003). The process of “sanitization” serves to limit the “scope of the prosecution’s cross-examination of a defendant to the date, degree, and number of similar prior convictions.” Id. at 484 (quoting Brunson, 625 A.2d at 1092-93). For example, in State v. Cox, the trial court allowed cross-examination of a witness on the existence of a prior felony conviction, but properly precluded cross-examination on the specific nature of the prior convictions. State v. Cox, 201 Ariz. 464, 467 (Ct. App. 2002).
Know Your Legal Rights Regarding a Evidence of Prior Felony Convictions
Admission of evidence of your prior felony convictions can detrimentally affect your injury case. So, it is important that you have an experienced, knowledgeable attorney help you address this issue. If you or someone you know has been injured and is concerned about how prior felony convictions may affect a personal injury or wrongful death case, call attorney Brian Allen at (480) 461-5335 or contact him at email@example.com for a free consultation to discuss your rights and options.
This blog should be used for informational purposes only. It does not create an attorney-client relationship with any reader and should not be construed as legal advice. If you or someone you know wishes to seek the help of an experienced personal injury attorney regarding any type of injury, or other personal injury matters, call 480-461-5335 and request to speak with Brian Allen or email firstname.lastname@example.org for a free consultation to discuss your rights and options. Udall Shumway PLC is in Mesa, Arizona and is a full-service law firm. We assist Individuals, families, businesses, schools and municipalities in Mesa and the Phoenix/East Valley.