Prior Convictions and Tuna Fish
The Scribes Journal of Legal Writing 160 (2000)
4 Pages Posted: 1 Jun 2018
Date Written: 2000
Trial lawyers are notorious for their prolixity and their love affair with utterly redundant phrases. Nowhere is this obsession more conspicuous than in the nearly universal tendency of trial lawyers to use the word "prior" in contexts where the word means nothing at all – for example, when referring to "prior convictions," "prior bad acts," and "prior inconsistent statements." This essay explains why that word is pointless whenever it is used, as it usually is, to describe some method of impeachment based upon a conviction or a statement or any other event that took place "at some point in time before today." Of course it did; that always goes without saying. The essay also explains the special and rare context in which it would not be redundant to refer to some event as a "prior conviction," and contrasts our legal system with the one found on the other side of the Looking Glass, the world's only reported judicial system where it might sometimes make sense to clarify for a judge whether you wish to impeach a witness with his "prior" convictions.
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