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Law School Case Brief

United States v. Brewer - 451 F. Supp. 50, 1978 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 19159, 3 Fed. R. Evid. Serv. (Callaghan) 162


The five factors used to determine whether the probative value of admitting evidence outweighs its prejudicial effect are: (1) the nature of the crime; (2) the time of conviction and the witness' subsequent history; (3) similarity between the past crime and the charged crime; (4) importance of defendant's testimony; and (5) the centrality of the credibility issue.


Before the Grand Jury, defendant was charged with one count of kidnapping and one count of transporting a stolen motor vehicle. In line with this, the Government has proposed to introduce certain past convictions of the defendant as impeachment evidence if the latter would take the stand. Under Rule 609, conviction of a past crime may be admitted as evidence to impeach the credibility of the defendant if the crime was punishable by death or imprisonment in excess of one year, and if admitting the evidence would outweigh its prejudicial effect to the defendant. The four convictions (i.e., Kidnapping, Rape, Aggravated Assault, and Assault with a deadly weapon) that the Government wanted to introduce to impeach the defendant’s testimony, should he take the stand, were all punishable by death or imprisonment in excess of one year. The defendant filed a motion to suppress the Government’s proposed introduction of certain past convictions as impeachment evidence.


Should defendant’s past convictions be admitted as impeachment evidence in case he took the witness stand?


Yes, as to the three convictions. No, as to the kidnapping conviction.


The Court held that the probative value of the prior kidnapping conviction on the issue of defendant's truthfulness, should he take the stand, did not outweigh the prejudicial effect knowledge of such conviction could have on the jury. Since the prior kidnapping conviction was for the same crime as one of those for which defendant was presently charged, the Court held that it would substantially increase the possible prejudicial effect on the jury, in spite of any limiting instruction the court would give contemporaneously with the admission. As to the other three convictions involving serious crimes, the Court held that they sufficiently served the purpose of impeaching defendant’s credibility.

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