In criminal law, many of the cases turn into a “he said, she said” situation. This means that the most credible witnesses may hold sway over the judge or jury, thereby controlling the outcome of the case at hand. This means that taking witness testimony is about much more than addressing facts that are pertinent to the allegations. It’s also about attacking the credibility of the other side’s witnesses to diminish the reliability of their testimony. This process of attacking credibility is called impeachment.
Impeachment can occur a couple of ways in Pennsylvania criminal courts. One of the most effective ways of impeaching a witness is utilizing his or her criminal history. Under Pennsylvania’s rules of evidence, only evidence of criminal convictions involving dishonesty must be allowed by the court in order to address witness reliability. Therefore, convictions for fraud and forgery can play a pivotal role in attacking a witness’s credibility.
Another way to impeach a witness is to utilize prior inconsistent statements. If a witness testifies to something that is contrary to something he or she said before, then the previous statement can be utilized in court. Of course some prior inconsistent statements, such as those given at a deposition, will carry more weight with a judge and jury. However, there is often a certain amount of chipping away at a witness’s credibility that must occur in order to successfully persuade a judge or jury not to believe that particular witness.
Impeachment is just one of the many legal skills that must be effectively utilized to put forth the best criminal defense possible. Other legal issues, such as hearsay, evidence suppression, and chain of custody, may be addressed in other posts. However, if you are reading this blog and are facing allegations of criminal wrongdoing, or know a loved one who is facing potential prosecution, it may be worth discussing the particulars of the case at hand with an experienced criminal defense attorney to develop the best legal strategy moving forward.