Document Type


Publication Date


Publication Information

31 Hamline Law Review 405 (2008)


Rule of Evidence 609, which governs the admission of prior convictions of a witness for purposes of impeachment, occupies an important place in the day to day operation of American criminal trials. The rule is a compromise that reflects these competing values. It admits some prior convictions but not all. Crimen falsi offenses such as perjury and fraud are automatically admissible under 609(a)(2). All other felonies are analyzed under the balancing test of 609(a)(1), which allows the admission of a defendant-witness's crimes if the “probative value of admitting this evidence outweighs its prejudicial effect to the accused.” The rule seeks to strike a balance, but Minnesota courts have upset that balance. Indeed, in Minnesota, the flexible, case-specific balancing test has been largely written out of the rule, replaced by a mechanical test that admits nearly all felonies for impeachment. Minnesota cases interpreting Rule 609 have departed from standards that prevail in other jurisdictions and also from the text itself. The aim of this article is to diagnose the specific points of departure and to suggest reconsideration of Minnesota's current Rule 609 jurisprudence.