A Discussion of the use of Impeachment Evidence in Criminal Cases

Impeachment evidence in criminal cases can often mean the difference between a guilty and a not guilty verdict.  Juries attach great weight to impeachment evidnce when considering and evaluating how credible a person is.  So, what is the definition of “impeachment” for purposes of criminal trials in Long Beach.  First, let’s start with how the law defines it in California.  Evidence Code section 780 states, in part, that: Except as otherwise provided by statute, the court or jury may consider in determining the credibility of a witness any matter that has any tendency in reason to prove or disprove the truthfulness of his testimony at the hearing, including but not limited to, any of the following:

1. A witness’s character for honesty or veracity or their opposites.

2. The existence or nonexistence of a bias, interest or other motive.

3. A statement made by any witness that is inconsistent with any part of his testimony at the hearing or criminal trial.

CALJIC 2.20, which is the California Jury Instruction Book,  adds conviction of a felony and past criminal conduct of a witness amounting to a misdemeanor as considerations for determining witness credibility. CALCRIM No. 316  further explains that a conviction of a felony and criminal or other misconduct with or without a conviction as considerations. If impeachment evidence is based upon the prior commission of a crime, the crime must involve moral turpitude to be admissible. Additional examples of possible impeachment evidence of a material prosecution witness, according to the Los Angeles District Attorneys office,  include:

1.  False reports by a prosecution witness (People v. Hayes (1992) 3 Cal.App.4th 1238, 1244); 2.  Pending criminal charges against a prosecution witness (People v. Coyer (1983) 142 Cal.App.3d 839, 842); 3.  Parole or probation status of the witness (Davis v. Alaska (1974) 415 U.S. 308, 319; People v. Price (1991) 1 Cal.4th 324, 486); 4.  Evidence contradicting a prosecution witness’ statements or reports (People v. Boyd (1990) 222 Cal.App.3d 541, 568-569); 5.  Evidence undermining a prosecution witness’ expertise (e.g., inaccurate statements) (People v. Garcia (1993) 17 Cal.App.4th 1169, 1179); 6.  A finding of misconduct by a Board of Rights or Civil Service Commission that reflects on the witness’ truthfulness, bias or moral turpitude (cf. People v. Wheeler, supra, 4 Cal.4th at p. 293) (Note that the burden of proof in an administrative hearing is preponderance of the evidence.); 7.  Evidence that a witness has a reputation for untruthfulness (3 Witkin Cal. Evidence (4th ed. 2000) §§ 288-290); 8.  Evidence that a witness has a racial, religious or personal bias against the defendant individually or as a member of a group (In re Anthony P. (1985) 167 Cal.App.3d 502, 507-510); or 9.  Promises, offers or inducements to the witness, including a grant of immunity (United States v. Bagley, supra, 473 U.S. at pp. 676-677; Giglio v. United States (1972) 405 U.S. 150, 153-155).

According to one Long Beach Criminal Defense Attorney, a thorough review of all other types of available information contained within a given case must be made before a determination is reached that evidence concerning the credibility of a material prosecution witness is impeachment evidence.  If you have further questions or concerns about this topic feel free to send a comment for discussion.

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