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Witnesses may be impeached (question their credibility and veracity) based on previous convictions. This oftentimes comes into play in Missouri car accident lawsuits. In some cases the at-fault driver has a history of DWI or other convictions, but no convictions from the car accident at issue. Generally, the plaintiff then cannot just tell the jury about these convictions, because they are not relevant to the car accident at hand; however, if the Defendant testifies, previous convictions can be used to attack his credibility and therefore get the convictions into evidence.

Under Missouri statutes, the prior convictions of a witness are admissible by statute, see Missouri Statute § 491.050, “Any person who has been convicted of a crime is, notwithstanding, a competent witness; however, any prior criminal convictions may be proved to affect his credibility in a civil or criminal case[.]”

Accordingly, on cross-examination a party may “elicit the nature, dates, places of the occurrences and sentences.” State v. Holden, 278 S.W.3d 674, 681 (Mo. 2009). The court has often noted that in “literary terms the who, what, when and where. . .” Are proper as to a conviction. Id. (citing State v. Light, 871 S.W.2d 59, 62-63 (Mo. App. 1994). “Unlike Federal Rule of Evidence 609, the Missouri statute . . . does not place any time limit on the offenses. See State v. Cantrell, 775 S.W.2d 319, 321 (Mo. App. E.D. 1989)(Finding statute allows allowing examination of convictions received over 30 years before trial). Further, the statute is not a discretionary statute but one of right.

Under clear Missouri law, plaintiff has the absolute right to obtain the nature, dates and places of the occurrence and the sentences resulting from a negligent driver’s convictions.

We currently have several cases where this is an important issue in the case. For example an unlicensed driver that causes and accident may have several prior convictions for driving while suspended or DWI or other charges, this allows Plaintiff to get these previous convictions in front of a jury so they know the defendant driver continues to choose to needlessly endanger people on the roadway; empowering the jury to act in their intended role, as guardians of the community, by enforcing civil negligence rules.

Sansone, Sumner & Lauber is a St Louis based trial law firm handling personal injury cases. For a free consultation call (314) 863-0500 or contact us online.

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