Impeachment Methods Illustrated: Movies, Novels, and High Profile Cases
31 Pages Posted: 12 Mar 2014 Last revised: 9 Apr 2014
Date Written: 2012
The goal of impeachment during trial testimony is to discredit a witness's testimony, or, in other words, convince the jury that the witness's testimony on direct is not worth believing. The outcome of many cases may turn on a witness's credibility. If an attorney's cross-examination successfully impeaches a witness by demonstrating to the jury that the witness's testimony is not believable, the attorney may have successfully negated key opponent testimony. Jurors, of course, are not likely to place much reliance, if any, on testimony coming from the mouths of witnesses with suspect credibility.
This article reviews and illustrates the various methods of impeachment authorized by the law of evidence. The methods fall under seven categories: (1) physical or mental disability relating to an attribute to be a competent witness, (2) bias, (3) convictions, (4) bad or immoral acts, (5) bad character for truth and veracity, (6) prior inconsistent statements, and (7) specific contradiction. This article focuses on the Federal Rules of Evidence, although, in many instances, state rules of impeachment, with some exceptions and variations, are consistent with the federal impeachment rules. The impeachment methods are illustrated with references to movies, novels, and high-profile trials.
Keywords: credibility, trial testimony, cross-examination, evidence, Federal Rules of Evidence, witness impeachment, popular culture references
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