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Corbett, Crimes of Dishonesty and the Credibility Contest: Challenging the Accepted Wisdom of What Makes a Prior Conviction Probative

Canadian Criminal Law Review, Vol. 10, pp. 215-235, 2006

21 Pages Posted: 26 Jul 2006  

Peter Sankoff

University of Alberta - Faculty of Law

Abstract

Ever since the Supreme Court of Canada released its decision in R. v. Corbett, [1988] 1 S.C.R. 670, the question of whether an accused's prior criminal convictions can be raised against him in cross-examination has depended heavily upon whether those convictions constitute crimes of dishonesty, and whether defence counsel has attacked the credibility of a Crown witness. The conventional wisdom is that crimes of dishonesty are the most probative prior convictions and extremely useful in measuring a person's credibility on the witness stand. Consequently, they are almost always admissible. In the same vein, contesting the credibility of a Crown witness is also viewed as a touchstone of admissibility. Both propositions have been repeated often enough to have achieved untouchable status. In this article, the author challenges this position, suggesting that a second look at both conclusions is warranted. While some crimes falling under the designation undoubtedly deserve to be regarded as probative, the dishonesty factor often acts as little more than a stamp of convenience for the judiciary, and incorrectly permits the admission of prior convictions in situations where exclusion is warranted. Although better grounded in principle, the "credibility contest" designation suffers from similar shortcomings, as it is overutilized and often misunderstood, leading to the risk of real prejudice to the accused.

Keywords: Evidence, Criminal Record, Discretion, Corbett

Suggested Citation

Sankoff, Peter, Corbett, Crimes of Dishonesty and the Credibility Contest: Challenging the Accepted Wisdom of What Makes a Prior Conviction Probative. Canadian Criminal Law Review, Vol. 10, pp. 215-235, 2006. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=919600

Peter Sankoff (Contact Author)

University of Alberta - Faculty of Law ( email )

Edmonton, Alberta T6G 2H5
Canada

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