Wednesday, September 27, 2017
Court of Appeals of Minnesota Finds That Subsequent Convictions Are Admissible to Impeach Defendants
Minnesota Rules of Evidence 609(a) and (b) state the following:
(a) General rule. For the purpose of attacking the credibility of a witness, evidence that the witness has been convicted of a crime shall be admitted only if the crime (1) was punishable by death or imprisonment in excess of one year under the law under which the witness was convicted, and the court determines that the probative value of admitting this evidence outweighs its prejudicial effect, or (2) involved dishonesty or false statement, regardless of the punishment.
(b) Time limit. Evidence of a conviction under this rule is not admissible if a period of more than ten years has elapsed since the date of the conviction or of the release of the witness from the confinement imposed for that conviction, whichever is the later date, unless the court determines, in the interests of justice, that the probative value of the conviction supported by specific facts and circumstances substantially outweighs its prejudicial effect. However, evidence of a conviction more than ten years old as calculated herein, is not admissible unless the proponent gives to the adverse party sufficient advance written notice of intent to use such evidence to provide the adverse party with a fair opportunity to contest the use of such evidence.
So, imagine three scenarios:
(1) A defendant is charged with vandalism. 10+ years before this crime, the defendant was convicted of conspiracy to commit second-degree robbery. Clearly, the conviction is governed by subsection (b);
(2) A defendant is charged with vandalism. 10 years or less before the crime, the defendant was convicted of conspiracy to commit second-degree robbery. Clearly, the conviction is governed by subsection (a);
(3) A defendant is charged with vandalism. After this crime but before her trial, the defendant was convicted of conspiracy to commit second-degree robbery. Does Rule 609 apply at all?
This last question was the question of first impression addressed by the Court of Appeals of Minnesota in State v. Souder, 2017 WL 4228698 (Minn.App. 2017).
Souder involves the third scenario above, with the defendant both committing and being convicted of the conspiracy charge after the vandalism crime but before the vandalism trial. According to the defendant,
rule 609(a) applies only to “prior” convictions and that her conspiracy crime was instead a “subsequent” conviction because she committed the South Dakota conspiracy and pleaded guilty to it after the Minnesota vandalism occurred.
The Court of Appeals of Minnesota noted that this was a question of first impression and that
the text of rule 609 does not include the terms “past” or “prior” to define the convictions that are subject to the rule. But the rule does have a past-tense structure, referring to “evidence that the witness has been convicted of a crime.” It is clear that the rule refers to convictions that occurred in the past. What is slightly less clear is whether it refers to convictions that occurred prior to the charged offense or instead to convictions that occurred prior only to the testimony being impeached by the conviction.
That said, the court ultimately concluded that the rule does apply to subsequent convictions, finding that the defendant's
argument...misses the purpose of impeachment by conviction evidence. The meat of the impeachment rule is the witness's trial testimony. “[I]mpeachment by prior crime aids the jury by allowing it to see the whole person and thus to judge better the truth of his testimony.”...[The defendant] does not explain how a witness's conviction occurring nine years before an offense date bears on that witness's credibility at trial while a conviction occurring nine days after the offense date and immediately before does not. Not only is [the defendant]'s argument unsupported by the rule's letter, it is contradicted by the rule's clear purpose.
I agree with this conclusion, and it is line with precedent I have seen from other states.