Thursday, May 5, 2016
Impeaching the testimony of criminal defendants through the use of their prior convictions is a practice that is triply flawed: it relies on assumptions belied by data; it has devastating impacts on individual trials; and it contributes to many of the criminal justice system’s most urgent pathologies. Yet critiques are often paired with resignation. Abolition is thought too ambitious, because this practice is widespread, long-standing, and beloved by prosecutors. Widespread does not mean universal, however, and a careful focus on the states that have abolished this practice reveals arguments that overcame prosecutorial resistance and that intervening developments have strengthened. It also reveals decades of experience, from which both inspiration and best practices can be drawn.