Monday, August 31, 2009
Requiem For Admission: Supreme Court Of New Hampshire Finds Evidence Of Defendant's Drug Addiction Admissible To Prove Motive To Steal
Evidence of other crimes, wrongs, or acts is not admissible to prove the character of a person in order to show that the person acted in conformity therewith. It may, however, be admissible for other purposes, such as proof of motive, opportunity, intent, preparation, plan, knowledge, identity, or absence of mistake or accident.
In its recent opinion in State v. Costello, the Supreme Court of New Hampshire had to answer of question of first impression under this Rule: Is evidence of a defendant's drug addicition admissible to prove a motive to steal?
In Costello, Kurt Costello was charged with burglary, and the trial court allowed the prosecution to introduce evidence that Costello was a heroin addict and unemployed, giving him a motive to steal. After Costello was convicted, he appealed, claiming, inter alia, that this evidence was improperly admitted, and his appeal eventually reached the Supreme Court of New Hampshire. That court noted that the issue of "[w]hether a defendant's drug addiction is relevant to show motive to steal is an issue of first impression," with courts in other jursidictions addressing the issue being "divided."
The New Hampshire Supremes then sided with those courts allowing admission but not before noting that there would be some cases in which evidence of a defendant's drug addication would not be admissible to prove motive. According to the court,
Where the State seeks to introduce drug addiction without first establishing a defendant's identity as the culprit, his drug addiction has no relevance or probative value as to the motive of an otherwise unknown culprit. In other words, without a sufficient identification of the defendant as the intruder, the necessary chain of reasoning breaks and we need not reach the relationship between drug addiction and motive. In the absence of some identification of the defendant as the intruder, his heroin addiction, though introduced to show motive, would necessarily fill in the missing logical gaps that Rule404(b) requires a prosecutor to fill.
This was not, however, an issue in Costello because, inter alia, an occupant of the home that was burglarized identified Costello as the perpetrator, and "the State was able to introduce strong circumstantial evidence identifying the defendant as the perpetrator."
The court then noted that even those courts allowing for the admission of drug addiction to prove motive to steal required prosecutors to "establish a nexus between the defendant's financial motive to commit the theft offense and his ongoing need to purchase drugs to satisfy his addiction." The court found no problem on this front as well, concluding that
In this case, there was evidence that in July 2006, the defendant had a heroin “habit” and was a “junkie,” which was sufficient to establish the first foundational requirement. There was also evidence that in July 2006, the defendant had recently lost his job and was “usually broke,” which was sufficient to establish the second foundational requirement.
Thus, after finding that the probative value evidence of Costello's drug addiction was not substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice, the New Hampshire Supremes found no error in its admission.