The Hawaii Supreme Court addressed the issue in Asato v. Furtado, 474 P.2d 288, 52 Haw. 284 (Haw. 1970), in which the trial court had refused to admit as evidence in a personal injury suit arising from an automobile accident the defendant’s conviction for heedless and careless driving in a prior criminal jury trial for the same incident. The Supreme Court reversed, providing the following analysis (citations omitted) -
Where an identical issue of fact was necessarily decided, in a judgment on the merits, in a former trial where the party against whom it is now offered was a party, and where he had a full and fair opportunity to litigate the issue, we think the prior judgment is entitled to some evidentiary weight. This is especially true where the prior judgment was a criminal one, because of the extensive safeguards afforded defendants in criminal trials. In addition to the right to counsel, and in many cases the right to a jury trial, the defendant has the additional advantage provided by the reasonable doubt standard.
[A]lthough not conclusive, the prior judgment should be admissible as evidence where the following factors are present: (1) It must be shown that the issue on which the judgment is offered was necessarily decided in the prior trial. (2) A judgment on the merits must have been rendered. (3) It must appear that the party against whom the judgment is offered had a full and fair opportunity at the prior hearing to litigate the claim, and especially to contest the specific issue on which the judgment is offered. In other words, it must appear that the party against whom the judgment is offered had a full and complete “day in court” on that issue, with the opportunity to call and cross-examine witnesses and to be represented by counsel. Where these requirements are met, there is good authority for the proposition that the prior judgment is entitled to evidentiary weight.
Under [this] rule…it will be possible to admit the convictions that seem reliable and trustworthy indicators, be they for major or minor offenses, based upon whether the proceedings leading to each conviction seem to have afforded the defendant a full and complete opportunity to have his day in court, while avoiding use of convictions that seem unreliable because they are based upon proceedings that were largely perfunctory.
Even where a conviction is admissible, it is not conclusive evidence, and the party against whom it is admitted may rebut it by other evidence.
The Supreme Court clarified that, while the conviction was admissible as evidence, it was not admissible for impeachment because “a conviction for heedless and careless driving bears no rational relation to a witness’ credibility.”
Finally, the appellate court reversed the trial court’s refusal to admit the prior transcript for impeachment where the defendant’s testimony had been at variance with his prior testimony in the criminal trial.