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What Does it Mean to Impeach a Witness?

When a criminal case goes to trial, the prosecutor may bring forward witnesses to testify against the defendant. The statements the witness makes serve to strengthen the state’s evidence and satisfy the burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed the alleged offense. The prosecutor may call various witnesses to the stand; however, not all are credible or can provide an accurate account of what happened.

The defendant has a constitutional right to challenge the state’s witnesses, and, during the trial, their attorney can conduct a cross-examination. Impeachment of a witness occurs when defense counsel attacks the credibility of the person testifying against their client. When the defendant’s lawyer impeaches a witness, they demonstrate to the fact finder (the judge or jury) that the statements made should not be believed.

The reliability of a witness’s testimony could be called into questions for various reasons, including the witness is:

  1. Purposely lying on the stand, which is an offense called perjury
  2. Attempting to tell the truth but is remembering the facts incorrectly
  3. Exaggerating information or omitting specific details

Generally, the defense attorney will not directly ask the witness if their testimony is honest and accurate. Instead, to impeach a witness, counsel will present circumstantial evidence that attacks the witness’s character or challenges their statements.

The defense lawyer could use several techniques to impeach a witness, which include:

  1. Demonstrating that prior statements are inconsistent: The attorney would show that the witness’s story during cross-examination contradicts testimony given at direct examination.
  2. Showing that the witness has a bias or ulterior motives: If a witness has a personal interest in or will gain financially from the outcome of the case, the lawyer could present evidence that shows this.
  3. Presenting evidence of a prior criminal conviction: If a witness has a previous felony conviction or was found guilty of a misdemeanor offense involving deceit or fraud, their credibility could be impeached.

Speak with Our Attorney at the Law Offices of Kenneth A. Stover During a Free Consultation

Impeaching a witness requires attending to every detail of the case, both inside and outside the courtroom. Backed by over 20 years of legal experience, our lawyer knows how to thoroughly analyze evidence and statements made to challenge testimony and weaken the prosecutor’s case. We have successfully gotten cases dismissed and charges dropped for past clients, and we will provide the attentive and aggressive representation you need to work toward a favorable result on your behalf.

To discuss your case, call us at (775) 502-1575 or contact us online.