The adversary system of adjudication is one of the major cornerstones of the Anglo-American system of justice. One of the most striking characteristics of this adversary system is the right of counsel to impeach the credibility of the opponent's witnesses. The purpose of this is to suggest to the trier of fact that the witness's testimony is not worthy of belief. Exposing a witness's prior convictions of offenses against society is one of the most commonly used methods of impeachment. Such a practice is specifically authorized in Missouri by a statute which provides: Any person who has been convicted of a criminal offense is, notwithstanding, a competent witness; but the conviction may be proved to affect his credibility, either by the record or by his own cross-examination, upon which he must answer any question relevant to that inquiry, and the party cross-examining shall not be concluded by his answer. This method of credibility impeachment is available against any witness, including a criminal defendant testifying in his own behalf. Three recent Missouri Supreme Court decisions reviewed the statute and the practice of impeachment by prior convictions as applied to criminal defendants. This comment analyzes the impact of the new decisions and describes the current state of Missouri's limitations on the practice, compares approaches of other jurisdictions, outlines unresolved constitutional issues lurking in the background, and discusses the merits of the practice in light of its underlying policy considerations.
Timothy V. Barnhar,
Credibility Impeachment by Prior Conviction,
36 Mo. L. Rev.
Available at: https://scholarship.law.missouri.edu/mlr/vol36/iss4/3