EvidenceProf Blog

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

Saturday, January 14, 2012

In The Main(e): Supreme Court Of Maine Reveals Lack Of Mercy Rule For Victim Character Evidence

Federal Rule of Evidence 404(a)(2)(B) provides in relevent part that

subject to the limitations in Rule 412, a defendant may offer evidence of an alleged victim’s pertinent trait...

In other words, despite the propensity character evidence proscription,  a criminal defendant charged with murdering a victim could present evidence concerning the victim's violent character pursuant to the above "mercy rule." Maine Rule of Evidence 404(a), however, does not contain a similar provision, which was fatal to the defendant's appeal in State v. Holland, 2012 WL 90160 (Me. 2012).

In Holland, Rory Holland was convicted of two counts of intentional or knowing murder based upon the shooting deaths of Derek Greene and Gage Greene. After Holland was convicted, he appealed, claiming, inter alia, that the trial court erred by precluding him from presenting evidence of the victims' violent reputations. Holland claimed that this evidence was plainly admissible under the Federal Rules of Evidence, as noted above.

The Supreme Court of Maine, however, responded that Holland's case was governed by the Maine Rules of Evidence and not the Federal Rules of Evidence. And the problem for Holland in this regard was that the Maine Rules of Evidence do not have a counterpart to Federal Rule of Evidence 404(a)(2)(B). Moreover, the court noted that

Our decision to diverge from the federal rule was intentional. Reputation evidence not known to the accused "is omitted from [Rule 404] because it has slight probative value and is likely to be highly prejudicial, so as to divert attention from what actually occurred." M.R. Evid. 404 Advisers' Note....

In other words, if Holland new of the victims' violent reputations before he shot them, evidence of their reputations would have been admissible to prove his reasonable apprehension of them. But because Holland did not know of their violent reputations, evidence of their reputations was inadmissible to prove their violent tendencies.



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