The credibility of any witness may be impeached by any party. However, a party who calls a witness is not permitted to impeach that witness by evidence of bad character, including reputation for untruthfulness or prior convictions.
This section is derived from G. L. c. 233, § 23, and Walter v. Bonito, 367 Mass. 117, 121–123, 324 N.E.2d 624, 626–627 (1975). In Walter, the Supreme Judicial Court recognized that Labrie v. Midwood, 273 Mass. 578, 581–582, 174 N.E. 214, 216 (1931), held that G. L. c. 233, § 22 (party’s right to call and cross-examine adverse witness) does not override G. L. c. 233, § 23. See also Mass. R. Civ. P. 43(b).
“[A] party cannot rely on this statutory right [G. L. c. 233, § 23] to call a witness whom he knows beforehand will offer no testimony relevant to an issue at trial solely for the purpose of impeaching that witness with prior inconsistent statements that would otherwise be inadmissible.” Commonwealth v. McAfee, 430 Mass. 483, 489–490, 722 N.E.2d 1, 8 (1999).
When impeaching one’s own witness through a prior inconsistent statement, the proponent must bring the statement to the attention of the witness with sufficient circumstances to alert the witness to the particular occasion the prior statement was made and allow the witness an opportunity to explain the statement. See Section 613, Prior Statements of Witnesses, Limited Admissibility.
This Guide includes specific sections dealing with impeachment by evidence of character (Sections 608 and 609), impeachment by prior inconsistent statements (Section 613), impeachment by reference to bias or prejudice (Section 611[b]), and evidence of religious beliefs (Section 610). Other methods of impeachment—e.g., improper motive, impairment of testimonial faculties, and contradiction—remain available and fall within the scope of Sections 102, Purpose and Construction, 410, Inadmissibility of Pleas, Offers of Pleas, and Related Statements, 403, Grounds for Excluding Relevant Evidence, and 611, Manner and Order of Interrogation and Presentation.