Tampa Trial Attorneys are often asked about what “impeachment” means regards to witnesses testifying. In short, impeachment refers to essentially proving or identifying some sort of dishonesty or deception regarding a witness’s testimony. There are a number of ways to impeach a witness during their testimony. The most common ways of impeachment are identifying clear distinctions in their prior testimony, highlighting differences in their testimony to other eye witnesses and through the use of prior felony and crimes of dishonesty convictions. Of course, the most famous means of impeachment is what we call the Matlock Impeachment, where the witness begins to cry and admits they were lying the whole time. Obviously, this doesn’t occur often.
It’s critical that your Tampa Trial Attorney takes complete, proper depositions and the transcripts are transcribed for purposes of impeachment. The Florida Evidence Code provides very specific means and methods to properly impeach a testifying witness. It’s necessary to confront the witness with their prior testimony, give them an opportunity to explain and highlight the specific difference. When done properly, as you can imagine, this is incredibly devastating to the witness’s testimony and credibility. It’s also critical to highlight that in order to properly impeach a witness, their testimony must actually be different. For example, a witness that says they do not remember the color of the red light at the time of the car accident cannot be impeached if their prior testimony was that it was red. In that situation, it’s necessary to refresh their recollection using their prior testimony. We discuss that elsewhere on our Tampa Trial Attorney’s blog.
A second common way to impeach witnesses is through the use of an adverse witness’s testimony which directly contradict with that witness’s testimony. The easiest way to think of this is when you’re able to show one witness lied because other witnesses saw different things. This is far more difficult than the first example since you’re relying on other people’s testimony and eyewitness observations. Recently, a number of recent studies have come out that show issues with relying on eyewitness testimony, but we discuss that elsewhere on our Tampa Trial Attorney’s blog.
The third common way to impeach a witness’s testimony is using convictions relating to either felonies or crimes of dishonesty. We also discuss this extensively elsewhere in our Tampa Trial Attorney’s blog. In short, if someone is adjudicated of a felony or crime of dishonesty, that conviction can be used to impeach their testimony. It’s a little less clear with what constitutes a crime of dishonesty, but the easiest example is petty theft. This is often heavily litigated prior to trial, when the parties anticipate this issue arising. Further, a party is limited in their ability to question a witness concerning these regards. They are specifically limited to two questions, unless the witness denies the information. The person questioning the witness is only able to ask “Have you been convicted of a felony or crime of dishonesty?” and “If so, how many?” This is intended to limit the evidence solely to issues with honesty and credibility, while avoiding issues of propensity.
If you have questions concerning your Tampa criminal trial or impeachment of witnesses, contact the Tampa trial attorneys of the Hackworth Law Firm for a free case consultation. We’ve handled thousands of criminal, family and civil cases throughout the Tampa Bay area, and have experience in impeaching witnesses at either trials in evidence or hearings. If you’d like to contact one of our Tampa trial attorneys immediately, please use the “contact us now” tab in the upper right hand corner of our website. We appreciate your time and checking our Tampa trial attorney blog. We look forward to working with you in the future.