There are many individuals who have made mistakes in their past that have resulted in some kind of criminal history. It could be traffic violations, a DUI conviction, some minor drug charges from when you were younger and hanging around with the wrong crowd, or any number of other things. Although you do your best to put your past behind you, sometimes a criminal record can come back to haunt you.
One instance when a criminal history could affect you is if you are involved in a civil action in which you are pursuing monetary damages against another party that injured you. To be clear, you have every right to sue someone for damages regardless of what is in your background, and the personal injury case should stand on its own merits. Unfortunately, however, things do not always work out this way.
Your criminal history could be used against you during a personal injury claim, especially if the case ends up at trial. With significant monetary damages at stake, the other side will certainly try to use your history against you if they find out about it, and if they believe it can help undermine your case. Whether they will be able to do so successfully depends largely on the nature of your criminal offense, how long ago it happened, the effectiveness of your legal strategy, and other specific circumstances regarding your case.
How Can My Criminal History be Used Against Me in a PI Case?
First of all, it is important to note that your criminal record might not come up at all during your personal injury claim. And if you are working with a skilled and knowledgeable personal injury lawyer, this will definitely be their goal. Also, the only reason the other side should ever bring up a past criminal matter is if it has some relevance to the case at hand.
With a personal injury lawsuit, it is generally in the best interests of both parties to settle the claim before it ever reaches a courtroom. So, in most cases, a settlement is negotiated between the parties without the need for a trial. All that said, an experienced personal injury attorney will prepare to litigate the case (if necessary) in the event that the other side is not willing to be reasonable.
If the case does make it to trial, then your criminal background could be brought up to the jury if there is some element of dishonesty related to your conviction. For example, if you were convicted for shoplifting or insurance fraud, then this is likely to be used to try to damage your credibility if you testify in court. If, on the other hand, your conviction was for something like drunk driving or minor drug possession, then this should not be harmful to your case.
What to Do if you Have a Criminal Record and You’re Involved in a Personal Injury Lawsuit
The first thing you should do if you have a criminal conviction in your past is to be upfront with your attorney and let them know about it. Your attorney needs to know all of the facts, so they can prepare the strongest possible case on your behalf. By having this information ahead of time, they can go over all of the “what if” scenarios with you to help ensure that you are fully prepared for what the other side might do during a trial. Along the same lines, if you are not sure if you have a conviction on your record, review your criminal history so you are aware of everything that could be out there.
Another thing your lawyer will most likely advise you to do is be upfront about your criminal record if you are asked about it by the other side. Defense attorneys are trained to catch witnesses in a lie in order to discredit them – this is commonly known as “impeaching the witness”. Answer all questions from the opposing counsel honestly. In addition, your legal counsel might decide to bring up the criminal conviction before the other side can ask about it, so you can frame it in the proper context for the jury.
In some cases, it might make sense to waive your right to a jury trial and have your case heard by a judge. This might be applicable if you have been convicted of a felony or a fairly serious theft crime, in which case a jury is likely to view you unfavorably. In these situations, you may be better off with a judge, because they tend to be less susceptible to emotional arguments.
Finally, there are some instances in which you may be able to have your criminal record expunged and removed from public view before your personal injury case gets to trial. In Alabama, certain criminal offenses are eligible for expungement; such as non-convictions for traffic violations, municipal violations, ordinance violations, misdemeanors, and nonviolent felonies.
Contact an Experienced Birmingham, AL Personal Injury Attorney
Having a criminal record should not in any way hinder you from pursuing just compensation if you have suffered a personal injury that was someone else’s fault. The first step is to have your case thoroughly reviewed by a seasoned attorney, so you fully understand your legal rights and options.
At the Zach Peagler Law Firm, we have extensive experience with both personal injury and criminal law, the complexities of each, and how the two areas of law intersect. To schedule a free consultation with our attorney, message us online or call our office today at (205) 871-9990. We look forward to serving you!