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Editor: Colin Miller
Univ. of South Carolina School of Law

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Saturday, August 7, 2010

A Question Of Your Honesty: Court Of Appeals Of Iowa Opinion Reveals Iowa Courts Treat Theft And Burglary As Crimes Involving Dishonesty Or False Statement

Like its federal counterpart, Iowa Rule of Evidence 5.609(a) provides that

(1) Evidence that a witness other than the accused has been convicted of a crime shall be admitted, subject to rule 5.403, if the crime was punishable by death or imprisonment in excess of one year pursuant to the law under which the witness was convicted, and evidence that an accused has been convicted of such a crime shall be admitted if the court determines that the probative value of admitting this evidence outweighs its prejudicial effect to the accused; and
 
(2) Evidence that any witness has been convicted of a crime shall be admitted if it involved dishonesty or false statement, regardless of the punishment.

In most jurisdictions, convictions for crimes such as theft and burglary do not automatically qualify as convictions for crimes involving dishonesty or false statement. This is not, however, the case in Iowa, as was revealed by the recent opinion of the Court of Appeals of Iowa in State v. Harrington, 2010 WL 2925696 (Iowa.App. 2010).

In Harrington, Wendell Harrington was convicted of ongoing criminal conduct, eluding, theft in the first and second degrees, and three counts of burglary in the second degree as a habitual offender. After he was convicted, he appealed, claiming, inter alia, that the trial court by allowing the prosecution to impeach him through his prior convictions for theft and burglary. Specifically, according to Harrington, the trial court erred by failing to balance the probative value and the likely prejudicial effect of admitting evidence of his prior convictions.

The Court of Appeals of Iowa disagreed, finding that the crimes of theft and burglary underlying Harrington's prior convictions were both crimes or dishonesty or false statement under  Iowa Rule of Evidence 5.609(a)(2), meaning that the trial court did not need to balance their probative value against their likely prejudicial effect.

Most courts would disagree. For instance, in United States v. Glenn, 667 F.2d 1269, 1273 (9th Cir. 1982), the Ninth Circuit found that the defendant's grand theft and burglary convictions were not covered by Federal Rule of Evidence 609(a)(2) because

Generally, crimes of violence, theft crimes, and crimes of stealth do not involve “dishonesty or false statement” within the meaning of rule 609(a)(2). Although such crimes may indicate a lack of respect for the persons or property of others,...they do not "bear directly on the likelihood that the defendant will testify truthfully."

That said, "[a] conviction for burglary or theft may nevertheless be admissible under rule 609(a)(2) if the crime was actually committed by fraudulent or deceitful means." Id. The Court of Appeals of Iowa, however, did not make such a finding, and with good reason: The Supreme Court of Iowa has already found that convictions for theft and burglary automatically fall under Iowa Rule of Evidence 5.609(a)(2). See State v. Willard, 351 N.W.2d 516, 518 (Iowa 1984); State v. Conner, 241 N.W.2d 447, 455 (Iowa 1976).

I strongly disagree with the Iowa rule. Sure, if a defendant previously lied to the owner of a home ("I'm here to fix the gas line") to gain entry into the home with the intent of committing a crime inside (attacking the owner), his conviction for that act of burglary should be admissible under Iowa Rule of Evidence 5.609(a)(2). But if the defendant previously picked a lock on a home with the intent of entering and attacking the owner, I don't see how his conviction for that act of burglary would qualify under Iowa Rule of Evidence 5.609(a)(2) as a conviction for a crime of dishonesty or false statement.

-CM

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/evidenceprof/2010/08/609--state-v-harringtonslip-copy-2010-wl-2925696-tableiowa-app2010.html

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