By Stevie Phillips
Justice Janice M. Holder, in a unanimous decision of the Tennessee Supreme Court, held yesterday that the misdemeanor "crime of passing worthless checks involves an element of dishonesty or false statement" and can therefore be used to impeach a defendant's credibility so long as its probative value outweighs its prejudicial effect.
Under Tennessee Rule of Evidence 609(a)(2), a witness may be impeached with a prior conviction if the crime involves dishonesty or false statement. Here, the defendant, Wanda F. Russell, argued that an honest mistake can result in a conviction for passing a worthless check.
In determining whether a crime qualifies, a court assesses the elements of the offense, not the circumstances surrounding its commission. Here, the Court applied the rules of statutory construction to the statute setting out the crime of passing worthless checks, Tennessee Code Annotated section 39-14-121(a)(1). The Court concluded that the statute only criminalizes dishonest conduct, not honest mistakes.
Read the full opinion here.
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