Two of my esteemed Cornell Law School colleagues (and, in the interest of full disclosure, very good friends as well), Ted Eisenberg and Valerie Hans, recently circulated a paper that will likely interest, among others, criminal proceduralists. In Taking a Stand on Taking the Stand: The Effect of a Prior Criminal Record on the Decision to Testify and On Trial Outcomes, Ted and Valerie exploit a wonderful dataset and assess "relations between the existence of a prior criminal record and defendants testifying at trial, between testifying at trial and juries' learning about a criminal record, and between juries' learning about a criminal record and their decisions to convict or acquit." A summary of their findings, drawn from their abstract, follows.
"For cases with strong evidence against defendants, learning of criminal records is not strongly associated with conviction rates. Juries appear to rely on criminal records to convict when other evidence in the case normally would not support conviction. Use of prior record evidence may therefore lead to erroneous convictions."