EvidenceProf Blog

Editor: Colin Miller
Univ. of South Carolina School of Law

Monday, October 8, 2007

Nothing in common?: Idaho Court Makes Improper Ruling Under 404(b)

In State of Idaho v. Guy Michael Cook, the Idaho Court of Appeals vacated and remanded a trial court opinion convicting a defendant after allowing evidence of past bad character against the defendant pursuant to Idaho Rule of Evidence 404(b).  Idaho Rule of Evidence 404(b) is identical to its Federal counterpart in that, as an exception to the rule against character evidence, it allows the admission of evidence of other crimes, wrongs, or acts for purposes of proving purposes such as intent, motive, or (common) plan (or scheme)/modus operandi/"signature" crime.

The defendant was convicted of rape of a child under the age of eighteen years, delivery of metamphetamine, and possession of metamphetamine.  Essentially, it was alleged that in 2004, the defendant agve metamphetamines to a minor so that she would be unable to resist his sexual advances.

At trial, the trial court allowed the Grand Jury testimony of two other minors, who testified that in 2003 the defendant similarly gave them metamphetamines (presumably so that he could rape them as well, although their testimony is unclear from the court's opinion).  On appeal, the Idaho Court of Appeals vacated, finding, inter alia, that the Grand Jury testimony was inadmissible under 404(b).

The court found that there were more than just baseline similarities between the events, but it nonetheless found that the testimony of the two other minors was inadmissible because it concerned a distinct offense separate from the alleged offense at issue.  Citing to its prior opinion in State v. Bussard, 760 P.2d 1197, 1201 (Idaho.App. 1988), a case where the court found that evidence of a past burglary was inadmissible against a defendant charged with burglary, the court in Cook found that the Grand Jury testimony was inadmissible under 404(b) because "plan" evidence requires that the past act(s) and the present act be progressive stages of a single plan.

What the court in Cook failed to mention, however, was that after coming to this conclusion, the court in Bussard proceeded to consider whether the burglaries had a distinctively similar modus operandi.  The Cook decision was thus deficient because Idaho courts have found evidence admissible under 404(b) based upon a modus operandi theory in other cases (See, e.g., State v. Nichols, 862 P.2d 343 (Idaho.App. 1993)).

Of course, even if the court considered the modus operandi theory, it likely would not have found that the defendant's method of giving drugs to minors was so distinctive as to constitute a signature crime (Roman Polanski immediately jumps to my mind as someone who committed a similar crime).  But, the court should at least have addressed this theory.

It also bears noting that such evidence would have been admissible in a federal court case under Federal Rule of Evidence 414 (or in a state court case in a state adopting Rule 414). 



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