Posted by Edmond Geary | Posted in Burglary, Theft crimes | Posted on 13-07-2010
Evidence of other crimes introduced at a trial is so clearly poisonous that the rules of evidence generally prohibit such evidence. Intuitively, an observer knows the impact such evidence would make on a jury – regardless of the strength of the evidence of guilt offered for the charges being faced. Such evidence would have a fatal impact upon a verdict.
Evidence of “other crimes evidence” is not admissible to prove a person’s character in order to prove the person acted in conformity with such behavior under the Federal Rules of Evidence, Rule 404(b). It is similarly prohibited under the Oklahoma Rules of Evidence, Rule ??-ck this rule online.
However, evidence of other crimes may be admissible for other purposes, such as proof of guilty knowledge. The United States Supreme Court found such a circumstance in Huddleston v. United States, 485 U.S. 681, taking the case on certiori from the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Huddleston was charged in federal court with one count of selling stolen property in interstate commerce and one count of possessing stolen property in interstate commerce. Both counts related to portions of a shipment of stolen Memorex videocassette.
The evidence presented at trial was that a trailer containing over 32,000 blank videocassette tapes was stolen from an Overnight Express yard in South Holland, Illinois. The manufacture cost of each videocassette tape was $4.53. Soon after the theft, between 2 and 6 days after the theft, Huddleston contacted a manager in Ypsilanti, Michigan, seeking to sell at least 500 blank Memorex videocassettes for a price between $2.75 to $3.00 per tape. He ultimately sold 5,000 tapes, which he delivered to various customers.
Undisputed at trial was whether the tapes were stolen. The only material issue at trial was whether Huddleston knew the tapes were stolen. To do so, the government introduced evidence of “similar acts, ” and the trial court ruled that the evidence had “clear relevance” as to Huddleston’s knowledge. The first piece of such evidence was the testimony of a store record owner, who testified Huddleston offered, just two months before the offer to the Ypsilanti manager, to sell him new 12″ black and white television sets for $28.00 a piece. Huddleston indicated he could obtain several thousand of the television sets. The store owner purchased 38 of the sets.
The second piece of evidence of “similar acts” was the testimony of an undercover FBI agent posing as a buyer for an appliance store. He testified that Huddleston, one month after the Memorex tape offer, offered to sell him a large quantity of Amana appliances, 20 refrigerators, 2 ranges and 40 icemakers, for $8,000. The appliances were delivered, part of a shipment that was stolen. They had a value of about $20,000.
Huddleston testified he did not know any of the items were stolen. At the close of the trial, the prosecutor argued that Huddleston was not on trial for the other appliances, and the trial court instructed the jury that they were to consider the evidence of the similar acts only in reference to Huddleston’s guilty knowledge that the Memorex tapes were stolen, not to prove Huddleston’s bad character. The jury convicted Huddleston, and you can bet it was because of the evidence of the “similar acts.” Understandably, Huddleston’s lawyers argued on appeal that he had been subjected to improper prejudice, to no avail. The Court cited Federal Rule of Evidence, Rule 403, which provides relevant evidence may be excluded if the trial judge finds “its probative value is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice.”
The government did not prove at trial the television sets were stolen. Huddleston’s lawyers urged that was critical. The Supreme Court considered different levels of certainty the trial court, before admitting such evidence, ought to make by way of preliminary finding before admitting the evidence of similar acts. Instead of the “clear and convincing” standard urged by one panel of the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals or the “preponderance” standard by another panel of the same Court.
The Supreme Court decided that the evidence had been introduced at trial for a proper purpose, it fit the requirements as stated in the text of of Rule 404(b), and that was enough to make it admissible. The television sets need not have been proven stolen to be admitted. No preliminary finding was necessary by the trial judge. It was up to the jury to make its own conclusions about whether the television sets were stolen in its verdict.