Friday, July 24, 2015

Judge Nealon Reviews the Law On Admissibility of Prior Convictions

In his recent decision in the breach of contract case of Clark v. GEICO, 12 CV 1278 (C.P. Lacka. Co. July 8, 2015 Nealon, J.), Judge Terrence R. Nealon addressed a defense motion in limine that raised issues regarding the admissibility of crimini falsi evidence against the Plaintiff under Pa.R.E. 609 and evidence of prior bad acts or crimes by the Plaintiff under Pa.R.E. 404(b).

In this matter, the Plaintiff made a claim under a GEICO auto policy following a loss of his vehicle by fire.  GEICO denied the claim on the grounds that the policy had been declared null and void back to its inception due to material misrepresentations by the Plaintiff during the application process.

Judge Terrence R. Nealon
Lackawanna County
GEICO's motion in limine centered around its desire to introduce evidence of the Plaintiff's prior convictions for receiving stolen property, theft by deception or false statement, DUI, and driving without a license and financial responsibility.  Relying on the above-noted Pennsylvania Rules of Evidence, GEICO sought to introduce the evidence at issue in an effort to impeach the Plaintiff's credibility and to demonstrate a motive on the part of the Plaintiff to deceive the GEICO insurance agent in an effort to obtain personal automobile insurance on a vehicle that the Plaintiff was allegedly actually using for commercial purposes.

The Plaintiff countered with an argument that the theft and receiving stolen property charges were older than ten years and not admissible under the applicable test, and that the DUI, driving without a license and financial responsibility charges were not crimini falsi crimes.  The Plaintiff also generally argued that the probative value of the evidence at issue was outweighed by the danger of prejudice and the potential confusing of the issues presented.

After applying the facts to the relevant case law, the court ruled that evidence of the Plaintiff's convictions for theft as well as one of the two receiving stolen property charges would be allowed.

As for the DUI and other driving violations noted, GEICO was not offering such evidence as crimini falsi evidence but rather under Pa.R.E. 404(b) to prove motive on the part of the Plaintiff to deceive the carrier when the Plaintiff allegedly gave an incorrect driver's license number during the application process.

Judge Nealon crafted a remedy by allowing GEICO to show that the Plaintiff's license had been suspended for unspecified reasons.  The Court felt that this benign reference would still enable GEICO to argue the Plaintiff's motive to deceive the carrier when the Plaintiff allegedly provided a false driver's license number during the application process.

This Clark v. GEICO decision provides a thorough recitation of the current status of Pennsylvania evidentiary law on the issue of the admissibility of evidence of a party's prior criminal convictions.

Anyone wishing to review a copy of the same may contact me at dancummins@comcast.net.

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