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How does a prior record affect criminal prosecution?

On Behalf of | Dec 12, 2022 | Criminal Defense

Credibility is not an easy thing to measure. If you or a witness have a criminal history, the judge or jury has the legal right to use this to determine trustworthiness.

Prior convictions are not admissible as evidence to prove a defendant’s guilt. However, the Wisconsin legislature does allow prior records to affect the witness’s character of truthfulness. This applies to you as the defendant and any other witnesses that come to the stand.

Unfair prejudice is not allowed

Not all past convictions may apply, though. Wisconsin Statutes 906.09(2) states that the court must omit evidence of prior convictions that lead to unfair prejudice. The determining factors include:

  1. Successful rehabilitation of the convicted
  2. The pardoning of the convicted
  3. The severity of the crime
  4. Number of convictions
  5. Time since the last conviction

Once the witness admits to a crime, the court must determine if evidence of prior convictions may factor into the truthfulness of the witness’s statements. A criminal record cannot affect the judgment of the witness’s character until a court allows it.

Similar crimes might be unfair prejudice

A judge usually throws the evidence out if the prior convictions are like the current charges. The courts consider using similar convictions highly prejudicial and unfair to the defendant.

The fact of prior convictions cannot count as evidence against you. However, a factfinder has the right to know if you or another witness have a history of criminal dishonesty. Sometimes this can sway the outcome of a criminal trial. Remember, the use of prior convictions in criminal cases has strict limits, and many criminal records are not admissible.