EvidenceProf Blog

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

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Friday, July 16, 2010

Divide And Prejudice?: Arizona Court Finds No Prejudicial Joinder In Sex Abuse Case Based On Rule 413(a)

If a defendant is charged with several unrelated crimes, he has a good chance of having several counts severed based upon prejudicial joinder. In such a case, joinder would be prejudicial because if the defendant were given separate trials for each count, evidence of each alleged crime would likely be inadmissible in every other trial under Federal Rule of Evidence 404. Federal Rule of Evidence 413(a), however, provides that

In a criminal case in which the defendant is accused of an offense of sexual assault, evidence of the defendant's commission of another offense or offenses of sexual assault is admissible, and may be considered for its bearing on any matter to which it is relevant.

Thus, if a defendant is charged with several unrelated crimes of sexual assault, he will have a tough time proving prejudicial joinder because evidence of each alleged crime would likely be admissible in every other trial under Federal Rule of Evidence 413(a), as was the case with the recent opinion of the United States District Court for the District of Arizona in United States v. Brown, 2010 WL 2771882 (D. Ariz. 2010).

In Brown, Anderson Brown entered into a plea agreement with the prosecution under which he would have pleaded guilty to sexual abuse with a minor. The court, however, rejected the plea deal. Thereafter, the government filed a superseding indictment which added two additional counts for sexual contact against a separate victim. Brown, inter alia, moved to sever the newly charged counts due to prejudicial joinder, but the United States District Court for the District of Arizona denied the motion. According to the court,

In this case, joinder would not be prejudicial because the evidence relating to each count likely would be admissible in each trial even if the counts were severed. Because the counts are sex-related crimes, the Federal Rules of Evidence permit the admission of other similar acts for any relevant purpose. See Fed.R.Evid. 413(a)....In a very similar case, the Eighth Circuit held that severance was not prejudicial because the evidence relating to other sexual acts would have been admissible even in separate trials. United States v. Running Horse, 175 F.3d 635, 637 (8th Cir.1999). In Running Horse, the defendant was charged with ten counts of sexual abuse against the same victim, as well as one count against a different victim....Defendant sought to sever the count against the different victim....Affirming the district court's denial of severance, the Eighth Circuit explained that the defendant was not prejudiced because Federal Rule of Evidence 413 would have allowed evidence of the other ten counts of sexual abuse in a separate trial for the eleventh count....Likewise, it is not yet apparent that the Defendant would experience prejudice because the Rules of Evidence would allow the same evidence to be admitted even if the Court severed the counts.

-CM

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/evidenceprof/2010/07/413--us-v-brownslip-copy-2010-wl-2771882dariz2010.html

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