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Previous Convictions Can Be Used Against You


Fairness would dictate that once you have served your time for a conviction, you should not continue to be punished for that crime. Unfortunately, under the American legal system, fairness does not always rule the day. In criminal trials, there are certain rules of evidence that allow past crimes committed by the witness to be discussed.

In Alabama, this rule is Rule 609(a)(2). This rule allows past convictions of a witness to be brought up as evidence to attack the credibility of the witness if the crime “involved dishonesty or a false statement.” Evidence attacking the credibility of the witness is often called “impeachment evidence.” What classifies as “involving dishonesty or a false statement?” In Ex Parte Byner, the Supreme Court set out to define what exactly is meant by this rule.

In 2015, Dionntez Byner was convicted of robbery. At trial, he testified that the robbery was staged by him and the victim because the victim owed a drug dealer money and needed an excuse not to pay. On cross examination, the prosecution brought up the fact that he had previously been convicted of robbery in the first degree and robbery in the third degree.

Byner filed a motion for post-conviction relief under Rule 32 of the Alabama Rules of Criminal Procedure. He argued that his lawyer was ineffective because the lawyer failed to object to the prosecution bringing up his past robbery convictions. The circuit court dismissed the petition, and the Court of Appeals affirmed the decision.

The Supreme Court took up the case to decide whether a robbery conviction counts as a crime involving “dishonesty or a false statement.” The Court recognized that the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals had previously decided that theft was a crime involving dishonesty and thus could be used as impeachment evidence. In that decision the Court of Criminal Appeals reasoned that theft involves deceiving a person, and if a person willing to deceive someone else, they would be willing to lie in court. Thus, it could be used as impeachment evidence.

The Supreme Court then pointed out that under Alabama law, theft is a necessary element of robbery. The only difference between theft and robbery is that, in addition to what is required to prove theft, you also have to prove force or the threat of force. Because theft is a part of robbery, and theft counts as impeachment evidence, robbery should count as impeachment evidence as well.

This could have potentially all been avoided if the client did not testify at his trial. You have the right to not testify, and this would prevent any impeachment evidence from being used against you. Trial rules can be complex and confusing. Fairness does not always win. Just because you have served your time for a past mistake does not mean it cannot be used against you in the future.

You need an experienced lawyer on your side who knows these rules and can explain your rights as a criminal defendant. That lawyer is Joseph A. Ingram. Contact INGRAM LAW LLC today at (205) 335-2640 to schedule your free consultation.

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