Can a Prior Drug Crime Conviction Be Used as Impeachment in an Illinois Domestic Battery Case?

cannabisA recent Illinois appeal involved a Domestic Battery. The defendant was acquitted of Aggravated Domestic Battery and unlawfully interfering with a report of Domestic Violence, but he was convicted of Domestic Battery under 720 ILCS 5/12-3.2(a)(1). The trial court denied his post-trial motion, and he was sentenced to 30 months in prison. He appealed on the grounds that the court had made a mistake in permitting the prosecution to impeach him with his felony Cannabis conviction.

The case arose from allegations that the defendant knowingly caused harm to a woman by choking her after previously being convicted of a Domestic Battery. In addition to applying pressure to her throat, it was alleged that he stopped her normal breathing or blood circulation, and he knowingly stopped her from calling the police by taking her phone.

Before trial, the defendant tried to stop the State from impeaching him by showing he had a prior Domestic Battery conviction and a felony Marijuana conviction. At the hearing, the prosecution argued that the Marijuana conviction could be admitted because the charge was not similar to the defendant’s current charges, and it had impeachment value because it was a crime against society.

The judge wouldn’t allow the prosecution to use the Domestic Battery conviction for impeachment but did allow the Marijuana conviction to be used. He reasoned that under the applicable balancing test, the probative value of the Marijuana conviction outweighed the potential that it would cause undue prejudice, but the prior Domestic Battery conviction was overly prejudicial.  He did not further explain his reasoning.

At trial, the State called a witness who testified that she had been standing in front of her house on the date of the incident when an African American man came up to a car that was pulling up and started choking the white woman who got out of the car.  He dragged the woman to the house while she screamed.  The witness went inside to call the police.  On cross-examination, she admitted that the encounter happened 30-40 yards away and testified inconsistently about the side of the car from which the woman left.

The victim testified that she had been dating the defendant for a year when she dropped him off at his home.  While at a convenience store immediately afterward, she saw the defendant’s cousin and the cousin’s friend. The cousin wanted a ride home, so she let the pair into the car. The defendant called her, saying he had her license. He was angry that somebody was in the car, even if it was his cousin who needed a ride. She came back to the defendant’s house, and when she pulled up, the defendant got upset. He pulled open the driver’s door, saw her holding her phone, and took it.

The victim started to go toward the house next door to the defendant’s, where the defendant’s other cousin lived. The defendant grabbed her by the throat, and she briefly had trouble breathing. They went inside, where the cousin told the defendant to let go of the victim. The defendant let go of her after making her promise not to call the police. Later, she called the police.

The police photographed her injuries. Later, the victim testified her neck was totally red due to being grabbed, and she had some scratches. She didn’t seek medical treatment.

The defendant testified that he was angry with the victim for drunk driving, and she became angry and called him names. He said that she had gotten out of the car on her own, and he took the phone and purse to keep them away from his cousin’s friend and took the keys because she was drunk. He denied putting his hands around her neck and testified that she kept falling down.

He was questioned about the 2013 Marijuana charge and admitted it, but he said it had nothing to do with the current charge. Various witnesses disagreed with his version of events.

During closing arguments, the prosecution stated that the Marijuana conviction tended to show that the defendant’s testimony wasn’t credible, since it was a crime of dishonesty. There was no other mention of the conviction after that.

The defendant appealed, arguing that the Marijuana conviction didn’t prove anything about his credibility. The Appellate Court explained that evidence of a prior conviction can be admitted to impeach a witness if the crime was punishable by imprisonment for more than a year or involved dishonesty or false statements, less than 10 years had passed since the conviction date or the release of the witness from prison, and the probative value of the prior conviction outweighed any danger of prejudice.

The appellate court explained that in determining whether a prior conviction is more probative than prejudicial, the lower court would need to consider the type of crime, its nearness, and any subsequent criminal career, as well as whether it was similar to the crime at issue. In Illinois, a conviction of Unlawful Possession or Delivery of a Controlled Substance does go to credibility and can be a basis for impeachment. In this case, the prior conviction was recent and involved a crime that was not similar to Domestic Battery, so it could be used as long as it was used for impeachment only. The judgment was affirmed.

You should consult an experienced criminal defense lawyer if you are charged with a crime involving Controlled Substances or Domestic Battery. Each case is different, and an experienced lawyer can make sure you present a strong defense. James Dimeas is an award-winning Chicago Drug crime and Domestic Battery attorney and an author with more than 24 years of experience. If you are charged with a Drug Crime in Illinois, contact me in Cook (312-229-5500), DuPage and Kane (630-504-2096), or Lake (847-696-6458) County for a free and confidential consultation to discuss your legal options.

More Blog Posts:

Can I Be Guilty of Domestic Battery If I Didn’t Hit Anyone, January 29, 2017

The Kane County Domestic Diversion Program, December 1, 2016