Can Past Convictions Be Used Against You in Your Personal Injury Case?
As our South Florida personal injury lawyers know, a prior criminal conviction can be used against you in a personal injury case in which you are a plaintiff. Florida Statute § 90.610 deals with when a conviction may be used for impeachment purposes. This article will explore whether convictions can be used against you in your personal injury case.
First, let’s address how this would come up. As our personal injury lawyers at Aronberg, Aronberg & Green know, the majority of personal injury disputes settle before litigation commences. More often than not, the parties feel that it will be too expensive to pursue a jury trial and opt to agree to a payment out-of-court. If a case never gets to trial, then § 90.610 has no practical applicability — except for in one important respect, which we will discuss below.
But if your personal injury case goes to trial, you may very well choose to testify. If you do, Florida Statute § 90.610 — part of the Evidence section of the state statutes — says that certain prior convictions can be used to impeach your credibility. In other words, on cross-examination, the defendant’s lawyer can use certain types of prior criminal convictions to imply that the jury should not necessarily believe you are telling the truth.
Florida Statute § 90.610 provides that a party (in this case, the defendant, through his or her lawyer) may attack the credibility of any witness (including you, the plaintiff) by evidence that the witness has been convicted of a crime punishable by death or imprisonment in excess of 1 year or if the crime involved “dishonesty or a false statement” regardless of the punishment. In plain language, our personal injury lawyers know, that means that the defense lawyer can impeach your credibility with evidence that you have either been convicted of a felony or of any other crime involving dishonesty or a false statement. In Florida, a crime involving dishonesty or a false statement may include crimes such as fraud, theft, etc.
However, that rule of evidence has certain exceptions applicable to our personal injury case scenario:
- First, the evidence cannot be used in the civil trial if it is “so remote in time as to have no bearing on the present character of the witness.” In other words, if a person brings a personal injury suit in 2017 and they were convicted of a felony in 1965, evidence of the conviction may not come in to evidence.
- Second, evidence of juvenile adjudications can’t be admitted for impeachment under § 90.610.
- Lastly, nothing in § 90.610 affects whether or not evidence is otherwise admissible under other evidence sections of the Florida statutes, including § 90.404 or § 90.608.
Earlier, we discussed how most cases settle. But even in the settlement stage, the Florida Rule of Evidence providing for the use of prior convictions to impeach can be used to the benefit of a defendant. As our personal injury lawyers know, a defendant and his or her lawyer may pressure a plaintiff into settling by implying that if the plaintiff gets on the stand in a trial, their lawyer will use their prior conviction against them. Thus, and unfortunately, the fact of a prior conviction admissible under § 90.610 can be used as leverage in the settlement process.
Having the law on your side is a good thing. But knowing the law, and all of its intricacies, can be even more important. This issue is one of many which demonstrate why it’s so important that you retain a skilled personal injury lawyer to handle your injury case. And when you do retain an attorney, it is vital that you tell him or her about anything which may be relevant to your case. And, as we have discussed in this blog, whether or not you have a prior conviction can affect how your case turns out.