RHODE ISLAND CRIMINAL DEFENSE A Practice Manual – Impeachment with Prior Convictions

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A Practice Manual, 4th Edition
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Impeachment with Prior Convictions



State v. Dowell, 512 A.2d 121 (R.I. 1986). State moved to introduce the specific nature of defendant’s disorderly conduct, indecent exposure, in a rape case. The trial judge allowed it and R.I.S.C. affirmed.

  • “.the details underlying a conviction used to impeach a defendant’s credibility when he has become a witness in his own defense may not be presented to the jury, .the prosecution is entitled to impeach a defendant’s testimony and attack his credibility with the fact and the differing nature of his convictions.” Id. at 123.
  • Thus, the charges may be described in some detail but the facts may not be disclosed to the jury.


State v. Rocha, 834 A.2d 1263 (R.I. 2003). Trial justice deferred ruling on an advance Rule 404 motion in limine regarding the admissibility of defendant’s prior convictions for obstruction of a police officer for giving a false name, and for disorderly conduct and resisting arrest. Although defendant claimed that the lack of ruling prevented him from testifying and presenting witnesses for fear that the issue would come up on cross-examination, the court found that defendant could have proceeded cautiously with limited direct examination. R.I.S.C. affirmed.


State v. Silvia, 898 A.2d 707 (R.I. 2006). State was permitted to introduce evidence of defendant’s prior convictions for sexual assault, which used a knife, and other crimes, in trial for murder that arose from a fatal stabbing.

  • “.the trial justice has broad discretion in deciding whether or not to admit evidence of prior convictions under Rule 609.” Id. at 718.
  • In order “to raise and preserve for review the claim of improper impeachment with a prior conviction, a defendant must testify.” Without a record of the impact of the allegedly erroneous impeachment “[a]ny possible harm flowing from. permitting impeachment by a prior conviction is wholly speculative.” Id. at 719 (quoting Luce v. United States, 105 S. Ct. 460, 463-64 (1984).

State v. Vargas, 991 A.2d 1056 (R.I. 2010). Defendant on trial for charges of child molestation could be impeached with prior convictions on four charges of possession of a stolen vehicle and federal charges of uttering and delivering forged United States Treasury checks, even though some of the convictions occurred almost twenty years prior. R.I.S.C. affirmed.

  1. In determining whether the prejudicial effect of a prior conviction substantially outweighs its probative value, the trial justice must weigh:
  2. The nature of the crimes.
  3. The remoteness of the convictions.
  4. The defendant’s disdain for the law as represented by the extent of his or her criminal record.

Id. at 1061 (citing State v. Mattatall, 603 A.2d 1098, 1117 (R.I. 1992)).

  • The trial court found that the extent of defendant’s criminal record made the convictions probative to impeach the defendant’s projected image as a law-abiding citizen. This factor outweighed the remoteness of time.
  • However, the trial court did preclude impeachment with defendant’s prior conviction for third-degree sexual assault because the nature of that crime was so similar to his current charge that allowing it would be unfairly prejudicial.


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