To challenge someone’s credibility in court is to impeach someone before the judge, so that the judge decides to put less stock, or perhaps even no stock, in what they say. This is a fancy way of saying that you are showing the court that the person testifying shouldn’t be trusted or believed. Impeachment is a useful technique that could help you win your case.
Who can be impeached? And who does the impeaching?
Anyone who gives testimony can be impeached. This could be the person who brought the lawsuit (the plaintiff), the person being sued (the defendant), or a witness. This means that any party to a lawsuit – whether a plaintiff or defendant – can impeach anyone testifying on behalf of the other side.
So how do you impeach someone?
Think about the untrue statements that the person may make to the court. Identify any evidence that potentially demonstrates the person’s lack of truthfulness. To impeach the person, you will draw the judge’s attention to this evidence during the hearing.
Most common impeachment methods:
- Character for dishonesty: Show that a person is a dishonest person in general, and so everything that comes out of their mouth should be doubted. This can be shown by presenting evidence that they have a general reputation for dishonesty, by presenting a particular witness’s statement who has the personal opinion that they are generally dishonest, or by showing that they have been convicted of a felony crime that involved dishonesty.
- Capacity for perception: Challenge the person’s ability to accurately perceive, remember, or communicate. While we typically think about perception in terms of sight and hearing, you can also impeach someone’s perception by challenging their memory of the events they are testifying about or by questioning their ability to properly communicate what they perceived (for instance, by questioning whether their words accurately describe what they heard or saw).
- Prior inconsistent statement: Let’s say the person is going to tell the court one thing but they told someone else earlier the exact opposite of what they will say. You can bring up the previous statement in court as a way to show that what they are now saying is not true.
Can attempting to impeach someone backfire?
There is nothing a judge hates more than having her time wasted by irrelevant evidence. Be careful to not raise minor pieces of evidence which do not demonstrate a person’s lack of truthfulness. If the judge becomes annoyed or frustrated because of poor impeachment evidence, raising this evidence could do more harm and good for the outcome of your case.
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