You can do this in Texas. Or Ohio. Even New Jersey. Why, you can do this in that bastion of liberalism, California. You can do it in our neighboring states, Alabama, Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Tennessee. You can do it in every state in the Northeast. You can do it in every state in the Midwest, or Southwest, or Far West. Montana doesn’t let you do it, to anyone, anytime. But Georgia, ahhh, sweet Georgia, you can’t do it.
Why you can even do it in Russia, Spain and France! (Don’t get me started on the French!)
What are you talking about Kelly? Impeaching the defendant with his prior record.
You see, almost everywhere in this country, why even the world, a person can be "impeached" by his prior criminal record. What impeachment basically says it that the jury is entitled, but not obligated, to totally disregard the witness’ statement upon proof that the witness has committed a prior felony. Yet Georgia does not allow a defendant to be impeached by his prior record.
In Georgia, any other witness can be impeached. For instance, the accuser who takes the stand can be impeached by his or her prior criminal record. The defendant’s attorney can introduce a certified conviction of a felony conviction to impeach the accuser. The jury will be told they can, but don’t have to, disregard that witness’ testimony. Yet if the defendant takes the stand, and has a record a mile long, his prior record can not be disclosed unless he slips up and says he’s never been in trouble before. (The defense attorney has warned the defendant not to say that.)
The only other state that doesn’t allow a defendant to be impeached is Montana, but they don’t let you impeach ANY witness. Only Georgia gives special rights to the defendant.
I’m usually one who says that the criminal justice system, while not perfect, has gone a long way toward creating a level playing field for victims and criminals. But this is one area where Georgia is so far out in left field that we can’t see home plate.
It’s about fundamental fairness, in my humble opinion. Why can a defendant take the stand, looking like a choir boy, acting nice and sober instead of like the drunken maniac he was the night that the incident happened, yet his 31 prior felony convictions can’t be told to the jury if he takes the stand?
Now, what difference does it make if the defendant has been in trouble before? Really none. The fact he has committed crimes before doesn’t mean he committed this one. But if he takes the stand, why does he get special protection that no one else gets? Maybe Montana’s system makes sense, no one can be impeached. Or maybe we go to what everyone else in the world already does, if one party can be impeached, anyone can be impeached. But Georgia gives special rights to criminals and only they can’t be impeached.
In this year of financial constraints, this is one law the Legislature could fix that wouldn’t cost a penny yet would create fundamental fairness in the criminal justice system.