Credibility Evidence May Not be Admissible in Criminal Trials

We tend to think that in a criminal case, anything that tends to show that a defendant is not guilty or guilty can be admitted in trial. This is especially true when there are conflicting stories or recollections of how events may have occurred. After all, logic seems to dictate that anything that tends to help the jury determine which witnesses should be believed and which should not should be considered.

Credibility Statements Excluded

In fact, statements that are offered in court just to suggest that a witness is credible or not, or to solely support a witness’ character, are not allowed to be admitted as evidence. These statements are not allowed because those determinations can only be made by a jury.

Certainly, facts that may support what a witness is saying can be admitted, but bare statements that someone believes someone else, or simply has no reason to think that they would lie, are not admissible.

Recent Case Admits Credibility Evidence

This principle was tested in a recent case in which the Court upheld the conviction, involving the alleged sexual harassment of a minor. During the investigation, the police officer spoke to a young girl, a friend with whom the victim had confided. The defendant’s attorney attempted to make the argument that the young girl’s testimony could not be believed or that it was not credible. There was no DNA evidence or other scientific evidence taken to support that the crime had occurred as the state alleged.

The defense attorney tried to keep out statements made by the young girl that the officer was trying to testify about, as doing so was just an attempt to make the young girl’s statements more credible, according to the defense. Importantly, the young girl was one of the only witnesses to the crime, making the believability of her statements all the more important.

The Court allowed the statements into evidence, saying that they were not simply meant to impermissibly bolster the credibility of a witness, but rather, that this was a situation in which a witness was using another witness’ statement to show it was consistent with other facts that were known by that witness. In other words, the officer had facts that supported the state’s contention that the sexual assault had occurred, and the young girl’s statement was being introduced to support those already known facts.

Importantly, the officer did not testify that anybody that she spoke to was telling the truth, nor did she give any value judgment as to any witness. She simply was relaying a statement from a witness to show it was consistent with the State’s version of what had occurred.

This case demonstrates how important nuances can be when determining when statements are admitted or excluded from a criminal trial. Blanket attempts to show someone is believable probably will not be admitted, but when testimony is contradicted, corroborating evidence can help this kind of testimony to be admitted.

If you are arrested or charged with a crime contact the attorneys of Brassel, Alexander & Rice, LLC today for a free consultation to discuss your case.