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The Admissibility of Prior Convictions at Jury Trial

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If the State needs to prove a prior conviction as an element of the offense, the trial judge must permit the defendant to stipulate to the prior to avoid the prosecution from going into details on the prior conviction. Defense counsel will want to read the 2016 Ohio Supreme Court case, State v. Creech that expands the protections afforded defendants in Evid.R. 403 pre-trial motions that rely on the 1997 United States Supreme Court case Old Chief v. United States, 519 U.S. 172. Old Chief v. United States held that that pursuant to Fed.Evid.R. 403, a trial court abuses its discretion if it spurns a defendant’s offer to concede the fact of a prior conviction and admits the full record of a prior judgment. Prosecutors don’t want the evidence to end with just proof of a prior conviction – they want a jury to hear the name of the conviction, the nature of the prior conviction and to get a jury to see the accused as a worse person than just the case before them. If the states offer evidence for which there is an evidentiary alternative that similar probative value but is less prejudicial, the trial court must opt for the less prejudicial alternative (i.e. the defendant's stipulation).

However, Old Chief v. United States applies a federal rule to a federal case, raising the question of whether or not it applies to specific state’s rules. The Ohio Supreme Court answered this on December 29, 2016 in State v. Creech and recognized even more protection to Ohio defendants than Old Chief v. United States. Ohio’s Evid.R. 403 requires the exclusion of evidence if the prejudicial nature of the evidence substantially outweighs the probative value of the evidence. In other words, Ohio’s rule is more protective of a defendant’s right to be free from unfair prejudice than at the federal level.