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Deceit and the Classificaton of Crimes: Federal Rule of Evidence 609(A)(2) and the Orgins of Crimen Falsi

NCJ Number
Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology Volume: 90 Issue: 4 Dated: Summer 2000 Pages: 1087-1124
Stuart P. Green
Date Published
38 pages
This article focuses on the history of one particularly intriguing form of offense classification: the concept of crimen falsi, the crime of falsehood or deceit.
To the modern American lawyer, crimen falsi is familiar, if at all, as a category of offenses recognized by Rule 609(a)(2) of the Federal Rules of Evidence, which allows for impeachment of a witness who has been convicted of a crime that involved "dishonesty or false statement." The original Conference Report makes the link between Rule 609(a)(2) and the crimina falsi explicit, defining the phrase "crimes involving dishonesty or false statement" as "crimes such as perjury, subornation of perjury, false statements, criminal fraud, embezzlement, or false pretense, or any other offense in the nature of crimen falsi, the commission of which involved some element of deceit, untruthfulness, or falsification bearing on the accused's propensity to testify truthfully." Yet the idea of crimen falsi did not originate with the Federal Rules, nor indeed with the law of evidence. Long before crimen falsi comprised an evidentiary concept, it functioned as a classification in substantive criminal law. Part I of this article considers several preliminary matters concerning the definition of "deceit," the role of deceit in both unifying and distinguishing various criminal offenses, and the relationship between deceit and social harmfulness. Part II surveys the history of crimen falsi from its origins in the Roman law of the first century B.C.E. to its refinement in the Spanish law of the 1200's. Part III describes the transformation of crimen falsi from a substantive criminal law category to an evidentiary category that, initially, allowed for the disqualification of witnesses, and, later, merely their impeachment. Finally, Part IV examines the modern law of crimen falsi, suggesting that two of the most intractable problems in the interpretation of Federal Rules of Evidence 609(a)(2) are most properly addressed with an appreciation of the doctrine's substantive criminal law origins. 140 footnotes


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