People are often amazed to find out what they did in the past that may not be considered illegal, or even minor and unrelated to a current charge, can be used as evidence in a current trial by the prosecution. One such scenario is Federal Rule of Evidence 404. This Rule deals with character and acts of an accused. The general rule is that a person’s character or a trait of his character can’t be used at the instant trial to prove that because he acted that way in the past, he must have acted that in the current accusations. Of course, as with everything else, there are exceptions. To see how exceptions were applied in one case where a son taught mom how to shoot a machine gun read the case below
One exception is if the accused offers up a particular trait. Once the accused brings his character into play, then evidence showing this claim not to be true, may be heard by the jury.
Another exception includes matters that include not only previous crimes, but also non criminal acts that are considered wrongs or bad acts. In this instance, again, this information may not be used to prove the character of the person in order to show action in conformity therewith. However, it may be admissible for other purposes, such as proof of motive, intent, preparation, plan, knowledge, identity, or absence of mistake.
Such scenarios are outlined in the case below. In this case, the Defendant chose to video tape himself showing mom how to shoot a machine gun. While this act in itself may not have been a crime, the Court said the video could show the jury the Defendant’s motive to possess, intent to posses, his plan to possess, his knowledge to possess, his lack of mistake in knowing what was possessed and his identity toward the possession of the machine gun.
The Defendant chose to take the stand and raised his character as a proud military person protecting his country as character for the jury to consider before passing judgment of guilty or not guilty. Once this door was opened, the government prosecutor was then able to bring up the Defendant’s dishonorable Discharge. This is an example as to why a Defendant should think long and hard before ever waiving their 5th Amendment Rights to Remain Silent and choose to testify at their trial.
United States v. Guy Allen Op.
App. from E.D. Mo.
Fact Summary: A Federal Jury convicted Defendant Allen of one count of possession of illegal machine guns. The Federal District Court in Missouri sentenced defendant Allen to 24 months in Federal Prison.
Defendant Allen Appealed and argues that the Federal District Court erred with its evidentiary ruling at trial by allowing the federal government to show a video of him teaching his mother to fire a machine gun and also to cross-examine him about his military service and discharge.
(1) Video Footage
A. The 8th Circuit Federal Court of Appeals Ruled:
1. The Government offered the video under Federal Rule of Evidence 404(b).
2. This court characterizes 404(b) as a rule of inclusion rather than exclusion and will reverse the trial court only when such evidence clearly has no bearing on the issues in the case and was introduced solely to prove defendant’s propensity to commit criminal acts.
3. Evidence is admissible under 404(b) if its:
a. Relevant to a material issue;
b. Similar in kind and not overly remote in time to the crime charged;
c. supported by sufficient evidence;
d. higher in probative value than its prejudicial effect;
4. In this case the video was admissible to show motive, intent, knowledge
or other permissible purposes.
a. Doesn’t matter if the prior act was a crime or not.
(2) Military Service including arrests, charges, subsequent discharge.
a. The 8th Circuit Federal Court of Appeals noted that evidence of character is admissible in criminal cases where the defendant introduces evidence aimed at portraying his own character in a positive light and the prosecution is only
rebutting the inference drawn from such statements.
1. Allen opened the door to being cross examined on his military failings on direct examination by saying he was proud of his military service.