What is the Impact of a Prior Conviction on Your Current Case?

  • Jul 23 2018

If you have previously been convicted of a crime and are facing a trial for a different charge, you may be wondering whether your previous conviction can be used against you in trial. Unfortunately, there are some situations in which you cannot prevent evidence of your prior convictions from being used against you.

Prior to Trial

The impact of a previous criminal conviction can begin even before a trial starts. Law enforcement are able to see your previous convictions, even if you have had them expunged, and this may affect the kind of crime law enforcement charge you with in the current situation. Many times, second or third offenses are charged as felonies. Additionally, if your previous sentence includes parole or probation terms, you may face jail time for violating the conditions of your release by getting arrested.

During Trial

Generally, past criminal behavior cannot be used to prove you committed a new crime, but there are some important exceptions for how your past behavior can be used against you. First, prosecutors can use your past conviction if it will help establish a motive, intent, or common plan evident in the new crime you are charged with. For example: if you were previously convicted of burglary after robbing a store in a giant chicken costume, and you are currently on trial for robbing a store, and evidence shows that the robber wore a giant chicken costume, the prosecution will likely be permitted to tell the jury about your prior conviction because it demonstrates a similar method of robbery.

Another way your prior conviction may be introduced at trial is if you choose to testify. Doing so may open the door to the prosecution asking about your past convictions. Generally, prosecutors can only do so if asking you about your past conviction will reflect on your credibility or honesty as a witness. For example: if you take the stand and say, “I would never rob a store in a giant chicken costume, who would do that?” the prosecution can then impeach your testimony by introducing your prior conviction, because it reflects upon the honesty of your testimony.

In Federal cases the government may also use your previous conviction when they are cross-examining any character witnesses you present. For example: if you offer a witness who testifies that they have known you for years and you have the reputation in the community for being a trustworthy person, the prosecution can ask your witness about your prior conviction. This is because this tends to undercut the reliability of the witness’ testimony.

While there are many exceptions under which your previous criminal conviction may be used against you during trial, under no circumstances can the prosecution offer it to prove you have the propensity to commit the crime you are currently charged with. Propensity evidence is strictly prohibited by the courts.

What Do I Do if I am Facing a Criminal Charge and I Have a Prior Conviction?

If you have a prior conviction and are facing a new criminal charge, the stakes are very high. You need experienced and aggressive legal defense. The criminal defense attorneys at Valiente, Carollo and McElligott PLLC believe that everyone is innocent until proven guilty, and will fight hard to ensure you are defended to the fullest extent possible. Contact Valiente, Carollo and McElligott PLLC today to discuss your options.

Posted in: Criminal