Can my previous record be used against me at trial in New Hampshire?

Prior convictions cannot usually be used to prove a defendant’s guilt or proclivity to conduct crimes. Still, they can sometimes be used to call into question the veracity or reliability of the defendant’s testimony. The credibility of any witness, including a defendant, is called into question when he or she testifies in a New Hampshire court. The fact-finder (whether a judge or a jury) must decide whether or not to believe the witness and to what extent. That’s why courts allow some types of prior convictions to be used as evidence in determining whether or not a witness is trustworthy.

The offense of which the plaintiff is now charged, whether the plaintiff testified in a prior case, and the reason for which the conviction is sought to be admitted all play a role in whether a defendant’s past conviction is admissible in a new criminal prosecution. Evidence standards control the admissibility of previous convictions, and they vary by state.

If a plaintiff loses at trial or accepts a plea deal, the court may increase the defendant’s sentence based on his or her previous conviction. This is not the same as admitting the last record as evidence at trial. Based on an earlier conviction, the court has the authority to increase the defendant’s sentence in the present case. If the offender goes to trial, the sentence might be handed down either before or after the trial. If the jury adjourns before the sentence is delivered, it may never learn of the defendant’s prior conviction.

If a plaintiff has a previous conviction for a similar violation on their record, a judge may be obligated by law to increase their sentence, such as in DUI cases. Some prosecutors are known for being zealous in their pursuit of justice. They may try to bring up extremely old or out-of-state offenses to persuade or compel a judge to increase a sentence. 

Criminal Record Laws in New Hampshire

A convicted person in New Hampshire can usually avoid admitting a previous conviction by declining to testify at trial, except for the conditions indicated above. In general, whenever a prosecutor or defense attorney wishes to bring up a defendant’s past conviction, they should tell the court. A criminal record cannot usually be used to demonstrate a defendant’s bad reputation if the defendant has not made his or her character a subject of contention. Furthermore, a prosecution cannot usually use a criminal conviction to show that a defendant has a criminal propensity.

If a criminal defendant agrees to testify, certain types of  convictions may be used against them to undermine their credibility. This is know as impeachment, and it is used to  call into question the accuracy defendant’s testimony. The rules on what types of convictions are admission for impeachment are complicated. They usually involve prior felonies or misdemeanors of dishonesty within a certain time frame. This implies that a defendant cannot be impeached if he or she has previously been convicted of a minor offense, such as possession of drug paraphernalia, that has nothing to do with dishonesty.

A judge will not always determine that a past conviction is admissible, even if the defendant agrees to testify. To evaluate whether a prior conviction should be acknowledged, most courts utilize a balancing test. The judge balances the evidentiary value of allowing the offense to be brought against the risk of prejudice to the defendant. The judge may decide that the risk is too severe that if the past conviction was for a similar offense the jury will assume that “If he did it before, he definitely did it this time.”

A prosecutor or defense attorney can usually ask for a previous conviction or series of convictions to be admitted as evidence of intention, preparation, plan, knowledge, identification, or the absence of error or accident. It is a legal question to be decided by the Judge.  There is a wide body of caselaw on this topic in all states and the federal system. In addition, judges apply the law in diverse ways. The judge’s style and the appellate decisions in the relevant jurisdiction will influence the decision of whether to admit the prior conviction. 

If you are dealing with criminal accusations and have questions on criminal record laws in New Hampshire, you should consult an experienced criminal defense attorney. Get in touch with our team at Cohen and Winters to speak with one of our experienced team members today.

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