One of the most common questions posed to the St. Petersburg criminal defense attorneys of Hackworth Law, P. A. is how can the state bring in my previous felony convictions at trial. The most likely they are you brought up in trial is when you testify or when your testimony is brought in through third-party witnesses. Generally, you will be required to answer whether you’ve ever been convicted of a felony or crime of dishonesty. Once this is asked, you’re required to answer either “yes” or “no” and then how many times. Ultimately, those are really the only two questions that can be asked concerning the prior felony convictions. Fortunately, the Florida Evidence Code does not allow the State Attorney’s Office, or defense counsel for that matter, the opportunity going to the actual substantive charge itself. It is obvious the significant danger this could cause in light of unfair prejudice to the witness and/or the accused during their testimony. For example, it is difficult to imagine someone in a grand theft case being able to receive a fair trial, once the jury learns that a previous conviction for grand theft. For your convenience, we provided a link to the Florida Evidence Code for you to review.
It is also worth noting the jury instructions provided at the end of the trial. The judge will specifically mention that one of the things the jury can consider as to the credibility of a witness is whether they have been convicted of a felony or crime dishonesty. This obviously raises the question of what constitutes a crime of dishonesty. This is addressed elsewhere on the Hackworth Law, P. A. criminal defense website blog.
The fear of a criminal defendant being impeached during their testimony at trial is one of the leading reasons the majority of criminal defense attorneys advise their clients not to testify at trial. While the jury is not supposed to consider the felony convictions for anything but impeachment, it is almost inevitable that the felony convictions will somehow creep into their mind during their consideration of guilt or innocence of the accused. Again, this is one of the primary reasons the majority of Tampa defense attorneys advise their clients not to testify at trial. Frankly, it is simply not worth the risk.
It is important to note often individuals will ask, “What if I incorrectly answer the question as to the number of felony and/or crimes of dishonesty I’ve been convicted of?” Unfortunately, this leads to a very, very bad situation. More than likely, the Assistant State Attorney prosecuting a case will then approach the Judge to ask permission to admit the certified judgment sentences of the witness’s prior felony and/or crimes of dishonesty convictions. This creates the exact situation that the Florida Rules of Evidence specifically tried to avoid regarding the Jury learning of the specific substantive nature of the prior convictions. As you can imagine, this is often self-destructive to a criminal defendant’s case.
If you or someone you know have questions concerning the use of their felony convictions during a criminal jury trial, contact the St. Petersburg criminal defense attorneys of Hackworth Law, P.A. for free case consultation. We look forward to working with you and appreciate you checking our website.