Driving under the influence / DUI Attorney has been researching use of prior DUI convictions in prosecutions. A Florida Appeals Court just ruled in a case of improper admission of Evidence about Prior DUI offenses.
The court noted the general rule that it is improper to admit evidence about a defendant’s prior DUI
conviction in front of a jury. The defendant took the witness stand and explained why he refused to take a breath alcohol test. While this can allow some inquiry by the prosecutor, the questioning is quite limited as the excerpt below shows. The DUI
conviction was reversed.
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DUI Prior Offense Case Excerpt:
“Generally, evidence of unconnected crimes is inadmissible: [I]it is generally harmful error “to admit evidence of other or collateral crimes independent of and unconnected with the crime for which the defendant is on trial.” Nickels v. State, 90 Fla. 659, 685, 106 So. 479, 488 (1925). As stated above, the reason for this rule, establishing the harmfulness of the error in admitting a certain class of irrelevant evidence, is: Evidence that the defendant has committed a similar crime, or one equally heinous, will frequently prompt a more ready belief by the jury that he might have committed the one with which he is charged, thereby predisposing the mind of the juror to believe the prisoner guilty. Id. at 685, 106 So. at 488. Straight v. State, 397 So. 2d 903, 909 (Fla. 1981). “
“The Florida Evidence Code does provide an exception to this rule so that certain prior convictions can be admitted as impeachment evidence. Section 90.610, Florida Statutes (2008), titled “Conviction of certain crimes as impeachment,” provides that a party may attack the credibility of a witness with evidence that the witness has been convicted of a crime punishable by a year or more in prison or a crime involving dishonesty or false statement. § 90.610(1). But the State cannot ask about the specifics of the convictions unless the defendant is untruthful about whether he has such prior convictions and how many of them there are. Livingston v. State, 682 So. 2d 591, 592 (Fla. 2d DCA 1996).”
“Even had Mr. Hayward’s limited testimony “opened the door,” the potential for undue prejudice far exceeded the probative value of the testimony. See § 90.403, Fla. Stat. (2008) (“Relevant evidence is inadmissible if its probative value is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice”). “
“For these reasons, we reverse Mr. Hayward’s conviction and sentence for driving under the influence and remand for a new trial.”
Source: Hayward v State, Case No. 2D09-5198 (Fla 2d DCA Apr. 20, 2011), 36 Fla. L. Weekly D829a