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

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Monday, September 23, 2013

The Town Drunk? Western District of Kentucky Finds Evidence of Drinking Problem Inadmissible as Habit Evidence

Federal Rule of Evidence 406 provides that

Evidence of a person’s habit or an organization’s routine practice may be admitted to prove that on a particular occasion the person or organization acted in accordance with the habit or routine practice. The court may admit this evidence regardless of whether it is corroborated or whether there was an eyewitness.

So, in a case involving a car accident, should a party be able to admit evidence of one of the driver's drinking problem admissible as habit evidence under Rule 406? That was the question addressed by the United States District Court for the Western District of Kentucky in its recent opinion in Bryant v. Turney, 2013 WL 5278311 (W.D.Ky. 2013).

In Turney, Kira Bryant was killed in a car accident with Richard Bryant. A pre-trial motion in limine was made by Turney, seeking to preclude the admission of evidence of his alleged drinking problem. In addressing this issue, the Western District of Kentucky noted that

Rule 406 provides that “[e]vidence of a person's habit...may be admitted to prove that on a particular occasion the person...acted in accordance with the habit[.]” As the commentary to Rule 406 points out, however, “evidence of intemperate ‘habits' is generally excluded when offered as proof of drunkenness in accident cases[.]”...In Dawson v. Shannon, 9 S.W.2d 998 (Ky.1928), Shannon was injured when she was struck by a vehicle drive by Dawson. One of the issues at trial was whether Dawson had been drinking at the time of the accident. Testimony was admitted that Dawson had a habit of drinking....On appeal, the court held that admission of Dawson's habit was reversible error.... It found that admission of this evidence “may have influenced the jury and may have prevented a fair trial of the issues in the case[.]” 

The Western District of Kentucky then reached the same decision regarding admissibility in the case before it, concluding that

Habit “describes one's regular response to a repeated specific situation.”...Habitual acts “may become semi-automatic.” There is no indication that that Jamison's drinking had risen to such a level to constitute a “habit” under Rule 406. Accordingly, the Court finds that testimony about Jamison's drinking problem is not evidence of a “habit” of drunkenness under Rule 406, to prove he was drunk or drinking at the time of the accident.

-CM

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/evidenceprof/2013/09/federal-rule-of-evidence-406provides-that-evidence-of-a-persons-habit-or-an-organizations-routine-practice-may-be-ad.html

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