Thursday, December 6, 2007
Without Prejudice: Minnesota Court Likely To Find Felony Metamphetamine Posessesion Conviction Admissible Under Rule 609(a)
Timothy James Everson faces a string of misdemeanor charges in connection with a fatal traffic accident in Minnesota this March. Specifically, Everson was driving a semi that collided with a minivan driven by the pregnant Lisa Johnson. Johnson suffered serious injuries from the accident; her unborn child was killed. Everson has been charged with careless driving, having inoperative defective brakes, having none or an inoperative brake warning device, having clamp type brakes out of alignment, and driving a commerical motor vehicle while disqualified. Prosecutor Laurie Anderson has asked the judge hearing the case to allow into evidence the fact that Everson was convicted of felony metamphetamine posessesion in 2006 should Everson testify at trial to discredit is testimony. Everson's attorney has countered that the prejudice that Everson would suffer from the introduction of this conviction would outweigh any probative value it might have.
Minnesota Rule of Evidence 609(a) states, inter alia, that a witness can have his credibility attacked by introduction of a felony conviction if the court determines that the probative value of admitting this evidence outweighs its prejudicial effect. A couple of factors make it likely that the court will find Everson's conviction admissible should he testify. First, the conviction is very recent, and courts generally find that recent convictions are highly probative of a witness' credibility. See, e.g., State v. Davis, 735 N.W.2d 674, 680 (Minn. 2007). Second, a prior conviction's prejudicial effect is typically directly proportional to its similarity to the charges at issue. See id. Thus, were Everson charged with driving while under the influence, his prior conviction would be prejudicial because it might lead jurors to infer that he had a propensity to use drugs/alcohol and that he acted in conformity with that propensity at the time of the alleged crime. As noted above, however, there is no contention in the Everson case that he was drunk and/or high at the time of the accident. Finally, while drug possession is not a crime which is directly probative of a witness' credibility like perjury or tax fraud, courts have generally been open to admitting drug possession convictions on the ground that they bear some logical relationship to witness' credibility. See, e.g., State v. Flemino, 721 N.W.2d 326, 329 (Minn.App. 2006). It thus seems likely that the court will rule in the prosecution's favor on this issue.