An estimated 70 million American adults have a criminal record. That’s almost one out of every three! The FBI regards anyone who has ever been arrested for a felony charge to have a record, even if they weren’t convicted.
If you’re one of these people, then how does your record affect a personal injury case?
The good news is that not all arrests or convictions will have a serious impact on your future. If you’ve got a record, it’s not generally admissible in court unless it supports or disproves any evidence. Courts are naturally reluctant to see a party be prejudiced, and even if your record is arguably relevant, a judge could still exclude it if it creates a bias that would overshadow any assistance it presents in helping the jury reach a decision.
What if it is admitted?
If you take your personal injury lawsuit to trial, then you may have to testify, which gives the other side the opportunity to call your credibility into question. New York rule 6.19, Impeachment by Conviction, allows the credibility of a witness to be impeached in a civil proceeding if a good faith cross-examination includes the question of whether they have been convicted of a crime or a certified copy of the judgment is introduced into evidence.
If you were convicted of a crime that involves dishonesty or deception, such as forgery or fraud, then it could raise questions about your ability to tell the truth. Your record could also undermine your testimony: if you were struck by another driver at an intersection in the Bronx and insist on the stand that you’ve always been a safe driver, a previous DUI conviction or even speeding tickets can prove otherwise.
Depending on what information it contains, a criminal record can affect more than your personal injury case. In New York, you can protect your future by asking for your record to be sealed if:
- Your record has been clean for ten years and includes no more than two misdemeanors or one felony and one misdemeanor.
- You completed a drug treatment program successfully.
It is important to note that these steps only apply to a New York criminal record. Any federal arrests and convictions (as well as those that occurred out of state) are not covered.
What should you do?
If your personal injury case is going to trial and you have a criminal record, then tell your attorney everything about any previous arrests and convictions. Your attorney can still present your case in a way that results in a positive settlement or jury verdict, provided that they have all the information they need to represent you properly.
Jayson Lutzky is a Bronx, New York personal injury and accident lawyer. If you were hurt due to another person’s negligence, then call Mr. Lutzky’s office at 718-329-9500. He offers free in-person consultations. Home and hospital visits are available in the case of serious injury.