7 Ways to Use Impeachment Against Criminal Trial Witnesses in Pennsylvania

Witness taking an oath in the court room

A proper defense must always consider calling a defense witness or even the accused if the prosecution has presented compelling evidence. Calling a defense witness, however, isn’t an easy decision because this person will have to face cross examination by the prosecution. While a good defense attorney can protect the witness with objections, a judge may overrule those objections and require the witness to answer.

Before any attorney calls a witness to testify, he must thoroughly review their background to make sure that this decision doesn’t ultimately hurt the case more than it helps. While an accused’s character is never admissible at trial unless the defense offers it into evidence, there are separate rules that cover the impeachment of a witness’s credibility including the accused.

The Pennsylvania rules of evidence allow the prosecution and the defense to impeach the credibility of any witness.

Impeachment can expose a witness’s partiality, motive, prior convictions, character for untruthfulness, prior inconsistent statements, and a witness’s inability to recall certain facts. Here are the seven most common forms of impeachment:

  1. Competency – a witness’s ability to communicate, understand the consequences of lying, recalling facts and understanding what is occurring;
  2. Partiality – a witness’s bias, prejudice, financial interest, or corruption;
  3. Motive – a reason explaining a witness’s testimony;
  4. Prior inconsistent statements – a witness’s earlier statements that are inconsistent with the witness’s trial testimony;
  5. Prior convictions – a witness’s convictions for crimes of dishonesty and false statements that help prove the witness’s untruthfulness;
  6. Untruthful character – a witness’s reputation for untruthfulness which may be based on their previous acts;
  7. Contradiction – a witness’s testimony may be contradicted by physical evidence, other witness accounts, or by witness’s own inconsistent conduct.

Even if a witness has credibility issues the defense can still call this witness but needs to be prepared to rehabilitate the witness after the prosecution attacks their credibility. If you have any questions about impeachment or are charged with a crime call Gregory J. Spadea of the Law Offices of Spadea & Associates, LLC at 610-521-0604.

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