Does a repeat offense impact the decision of jurors on a criminal case? Most people assume that where there is smoke, there’s fire. So, if jurors learn that the defendant has a criminal record, that knowledge is usually the kiss of death.
Rule 4.11 Limits the Effect of a Repeat Offense
Fortunately, evidence of a repeat offense is generally inadmissible to the current case. The New York Rules of Evidence state in Rule 4.11 that prior bad acts are inadmissible in a criminal or civil proceeding “to prove that the person acted in conformity therewith on a particular occasion or had a propensity to engage in a wrongful act or acts.”1 However, there are a couple of trial admissibility loopholes, which are examined below.
There are also some practical ways that a criminal record from a repeat offense affects a criminal case. People who have been through the system before have some idea of what to expect. For first-timers, the criminal justice process is intimidating, to say the least, and usually downright scary.
These two issues underscore the need for a good Rochester criminal defense lawyer. A lawyer is an attorney and counselor at law, and legal advocacy is a big part of the job. Even if the state’s case seems airtight, some defenses are usually available. Furthermore, and perhaps more importantly, a Rochester criminal defense lawyer guides defendants through this time so that they can make the best possible decisions.
Trial Loopholes That Could Reveal a Repeat Offense
Rule 4.11 exists to defeat the smoke/fire presumption mentioned above. On a similar note, jurors should never know if the defendant is in jail. Most people assume that incarcerated people did something wrong. So, jurors should never see the defendant in jail clothes or handcuffs. However, Rule 4.11 also includes the dreaded and feared word “except.”
There are four exceptions to the inadmissibility rule:
- Essential Element: If the defendant’s character is a crucial element of the offense, prior bad acts are admissible on this point. Offenses that involve fraud or dishonesty, including most property crimes, fall into this category. Sometimes, judges only allow prosecutors to use prior crimes which involved moral turpitude.2
- Rebuttal Evidence: If a Rochester criminal defense lawyer introduces evidence about the defendant’s good character, the prosecutor can rebut this evidence with the defendant’s criminal record, which indicates their bad character. To avoid opening this door, it’s usually essential for an attorney to stick to the facts. However, there may be a fine line because jury sympathy is often critical.
- Self-Defense: Sometimes, prosecutors can use a criminal record to disprove this affirmative defense and show that the defendant was, in fact, the aggressor. This exception is somewhat technical.
- Impeachment: This exception is the most used one. When prosecutors use criminal records for impeachment purposes, they aren’t technically using these records to prove character conformity. Instead, they use this evidence to show the defendant is untruthful. Many judges tell jurors they may only consider the criminal record for limited purposes. But no one is sure how much effect these limiting instructions really have.
Because these loopholes are rather broad, especially the impeachment loophole, a trial might not be the best idea if the defendant has a criminal record. So, a negotiated settlement could be a better alternative.
Plea Negotiations and Rochester Criminal Defense Lawyers
The rules of evidence only apply in trials and other such proceedings. They don’t apply during plea negotiations. In fact, prosecutors have almost unlimited discretion to consider pretty much anything they consider relevant. In most jurisdictions, judges don’t supervise plea negotiations, or they do not pay much attention to them.
Furthermore, criminal convictions never fall off criminal records. Usually, after about ten years, they are mainly inadmissible in court. But prosecutors routinely tailor their offers according to the defendant’s criminal history, no matter how old that history is.
The before-and-after approach often reduces the effect of a criminal record during plea negotiations. For example, some people commit offenses because they were in harmful environments or had substance abuse problems. So, if the defendant has made some significant life changes, prosecutors often see these changes as mitigating circumstances.
Connect with a Hard-Working Attorney
One way or another, old criminal records usually affect new criminal cases. For a free consultation with an experienced Monroe County criminal defense lawyer, contact the Law Office of Frank Ciardi. Convenient payment plans are available.