McDonough v. Forrest
In a personal-injury suit, a court can exclude, as more prejudicial than probative, evidence of prior criminal convictions. Allegedly, the plaintiff, John McDonough, was on Route 14A on his motorcycle and was forced to take evasive action, when the defendant driver suddenly stopped his motor vehicle. The plaintiff allegedly collided with a guard rail and suffered serious injuries. At trial, the plaintiff testified that the defendant allegedly was driving erratically and that the plaintiff, who was following the defendant, slowed his motorcycle in response. A witness testified that he observed the defendant use his turn signal and observed the plaintiff approach the defendant's motor vehicle and lose control of his motorcycle. Absent evidence that the current accident involved allegations of driving under the influence, the trial court sustained the defendant's motion to suppress evidence of the defendant's prior conviction for driving under the influence in the 1990s. The earlier conviction was remote in time, and its introduction into evidence would not indicate whether the parties' testimony was truthful. Admission of this evidence might have been more prejudicial than probative. The trial court also excluded evidence that although the defendant denied that there were any other criminal convictions, other than driving under the influence, the defendant also was convicted of the crime of grand larceny in 1996. The plaintiff moved to set aside the verdict and for a new trial. The plaintiff maintained that he was denied a fair trial, because he was not permitted to impeach the defendant with evidence of the criminal convictions, and because defense counsel's statements during closing arguments were improper. The court found that the plaintiff failed to establish defense counsel exceeded the bounds of zealous advocacy when he claimed that the accident was not his client's fault and perhaps was not the plaintiff's fault, or when he discussed the description of the accident scene in the police report. The plaintiff received a fair trial, and the court was not persuaded that any of the alleged errors would have resulted in a different verdict. The court denied the plaintiff's motion to set aside and for a new trial.