Tuesday, February 14, 2012
Federal Rule of Evidence 414(a) provides that
In a criminal case in which a defendant is accused of child molestation, the court may admit evidence that the defendant committed any other child molestation. The evidence may be considered on any matter to which it is relevant.
So, when are prior acts of child molestation relevant, and when are they irrelevant? And, when is the probative value of such acts outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice? These were the questions addressed by the United States District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina in its recent opinion in United States v. Mason, 2012 WL 380325 (E.D.N.C. 2012).
In Mason, Frederick Mason was charged with child molestation. Before trial, the prosecution informed defendant's counsel of its intent to seek to introduce evidence of defendant's 1998 indecent liberties convictions, including testimony of the investigators and victims. Mason thereafter filed a motion in limine that sought to preclude the prosecution from presenting this evidence.
In response to this motion, the United States District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina found that the evidence was preliminarily admissible under Federal Rule of Evidence 414(a). That said, the court then found that Rule 414(a) evidence is still subject to Federal Rule of Evidence 403, which provides that
The court may exclude relevant evidence if its probative value is substantially outweighed by a danger of one or more of the following: unfair prejudice, confusing the issues, misleading the jury, undue delay, wasting time, or needlessly presenting cumulative evidence.
The court then noted that in applying this Rule, it had to
consider the following: (1) "the similarity between the previous offense and the charged crime"; (2) "the temporal proximity between the two crimes"; (3) "the frequency of the prior acts"; (4) "the presence or absence of intervening acts"; and (5) "the reliability of the evidence of the past offense."
Applying these five factors, the court easily concluded that evidence of Mason's prior convictions would be admissible at trial pursuant to Rule 414(a). That left the question of whether Mason's prior victims would also be able to testify, with Mason claiming that testimony from the victims would be "inflammatory" and should be excluded. The Eastern District of North Carolina agreed, concluding that eliciting the testimony of the victims of defendant's prior convictions is too highly prejudicial and would constitute "inflammatory testimony...."