Criminal convictions can make nearly every facet of a person's life miserable. Even minor criminal convictions that people don't ordinarily even consider criminal, like traffic tickets, can upend a person's life.
Sadly, when it comes to a civil injury case, criminal convictions can matter significantly. While not all convictions will have a significant impact, more recent and more serious convictions are likely to pose more of a challenge. It is important to note, however, that state laws will vary regarding what kinds of convictions can be used in both civil and criminal courts and when.
Is the Conviction Relevant?
Typically, a criminal conviction will not be admissible in any court unless it helps to prove or disprove something of consequence to the matter before the court. While civil courts generally provide quite a bit of latitude when it comes to what evidence is relevant, criminal convictions are generally reviewed carefully before being admitted to ensure that a party won't be unfairly prejudiced by the evidence. Even if a piece of evidence is relevant, it can still potentially be excluded, if a judge determines that the bias the evidence would cause outweighs the benefit it would provide to a jury's determination.
Credibility in Question
When a plaintiff takes a civil lawsuit to trial, unlike in a criminal case, testifying on your own behalf is less of a risk. However, when a plaintiff (or anyone for that matter) takes the stand, their credibility or trustworthiness can be called into question.
If that plaintiff, or witness, has been previously convicted of a crime involving dishonesty, like fraud or even just passing a bad check, evidence of that conviction, and potentially the details surrounding the charges, can be raised during the case, just like at a criminal trial.
Another way criminal convictions can get used in an injury case involves another way to discredit a plaintiff (or defendant or any witness) called impeachment. Impeachment is basically the legal term for catching a witness in a lie. For example, if a person is testifying about their safe driving habits and claims to not be a speeder, evidence that the person has received speeding tickets could be admitted to prove the individual was lying about their safe driving habits. However, some states, like Georgia, will only allow traffic convictions into evidence if a person contested the charge and lost.
Regardless of a person's criminal history, an experienced injury attorney may still be able to obtain a favorable settlement, or verdict, depending on the facts of your case. Additionally, seeking an expungement or the sealing of criminal records could also help keep old convictions from derailing an injury case.