Will the Most Controversial Rule of Evidence be Reformed?
To most, the Federal Rules of Evidence may seem esoteric. But how the rules draw evidentiary boundaries between admissible and inadmissible information matters quite a bit, both for litigants and for our justice system.
Federal Rule of Evidence 609 is a case in point.
Rule 609 allows attorneys to impeach criminal defendants (and other witnesses) with their convictions: to inform the jury, in other words, about these convictions for the asserted purpose of challenging the witness’s truthfulness. This form of impeachment has been called a “charade,” a “hoax,” “discriminatory and unfair,” and critics have urged its reform or abolition since its enactment in 1975. And yet, this rule has persisted, without significant alteration.