Judicial Anarchy: The Admission of Convictions to Impeach -State Supreme Court Interpretive Standards, 1990-2004


This is the second and sequential national study of an important evidence and criminal justice issue - the admission of convictions to impeach. It is a longitudinal national study of how state supreme courts have recently, over the last decade and one-half, evaluated this issue. The longitudinal study period of 1990-2004 mirros the study period of state rules on this issue which was undertaken in the first article. The study period was chosen for an explicit substantive rationale that was explained in that article and is repeated in this article. Because both articles are decade and one-half studies they will remain current for years to serve as a valuable resource for appellate courts, judges generally, legal academics, and the practicing bar.

The first article established for the first time accurately and in detail how the evidence rules' of the fifty states regulated this issue in comparison to each other and the federal rule's standards on this important issue. That article's core federalism finding was that as the country reached the mid-point of the first decade of the twenty-first century, there were twnety-eight different standards among the states' rules regulating this issue.

This article builds on that article by focusing on the next level of federalism - how state supreme courts have interpreted those rules, and how these interpretations have impacted the current national pattern of regulating the admission of convictions to impeach. As indicated by the title, this article's most significant finding is that overall the state supreme courts' decisions authorize and encourage the thousands of state trial judges to determine the admissibility of convictions to impeach on the basis of hunch and heuristics.

Ultimately, this article provides detailed documentation of this pattern of judicial anarchy, identifies its significance, examines its possible causes, and concludes with both drastic procedural and substantive reform recommendations. The fifteen year performance of the state supreme courts collectively provides a basis for the article concluding that the only viable remedy is the banning of the use of conviction records as a basis for impeachment.


Criminal Law | Criminal Procedure | Evidence

Date of this Version

May 2006