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Univ. of South Carolina School of Law

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Monday, September 16, 2013

Collateral Damage: Arizona Court Finds Acquittal Doesn't Bar Evidence of Defendant's Prior Confession

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.

Assume that a defendant is charged with Aggravated Sexual Abuse of a Minor. Also, assume that the defendant was previously charged with Attempted Aggravated Sexual Assault and signed a written confession to that crime. If the defendant was later acquitted of the prior offense, would collateral estoppel bar the prosecution from admitting his confession under Federal Rule of Evidence 414(a)? That was the question addressed by the United States Distruct Court for the District of Arizona in United States v. Young, 2013 WL 4834029 (D.Ariz. 2013).

In Young, the facts were as stated above. In addressing the issue, the court noted that

Collateral estoppel applies only to prohibit the government from relitigating an issue of ultimate fact that has been previously determined by a valid and final judgment. Collateral estoppel does not bar the later use of evidence simply because it relates to alleged criminal conduct for which a defendant has been acquitted. 

The Court found its prior opinion in  Dowling v. U.S., 493 U.S. 342, 348 (1990), noting that

In Dowling, the Supreme Court explained that collateral estoppel prohibits the government from relitigating an issue of ultimate fact that has been determined by a valid and final judgment....Dowling involved an appeal by a defendant, Reuben Dowling, convicted of bank robbery. On July 8, 1985, a man wearing a ski mask and armed with a small pistol robbed a bank in Frederiksted, St. Croix, Virgin Islands. The culprit ran from the bank and eventually escaped in a taxi. Another man, Delroy Christian, sitting in a getaway car, was arrested at the scene. Dowling was eventually arrested and charged with the bank robbery. During Dowling's trial, the government called Ms. Henry to testify that a man wearing a mask and carrying a small handgun had, together with Delroy Christian, entered her home two weeks after the bank robbery. A struggle had ensued, and Henry had managed to unmask the intruder, whom she identified as Dowling. Dowling was charged with entering Ms. Henry's home, but was acquitted. Nevertheless, the government elicited Henry's testimony because it believed that Henry's description of Dowling as wearing a mask and carrying a gun similar to those used in the bank robbery, and the fact that he entered her home with Delroy Christian (the getaway driver in the bank robbery), strengthened the government's identification of Dowling as the bank robber. On appeal, Dowling argued that Ms. Henry's testimony should have been excluded under the doctrine of collateral estoppel.

The Supreme Court held that collateral estoppel did not bar the use of Ms. Henry's testimony notwithstanding Dowling's previous acquittal of all crimes in connection with the invasion of Ms. Henry's home. Dowling explained that where a prior acquittal does not determine an ultimate issue in the present case, it does not bar admission of evidence related to the prior acquittal under the doctrine of collateral estoppel....Because Dowling's alleged invasion of Henry's home was not an ultimate issue in the prosecution for bank robbery, but instead was admitted only as evidence of Dowling's involvement in the bank robbery, Henry's testimony was not barred by collateral estoppel.

The court then found that

Defendant's motion to preclude evidence of the confession made in 1992 suffers from the same flaws as the defendant's argument in Dowling. The doctrine of collateral estoppel does not exclude all relevant and probative evidence that is otherwise admissible under the Rules of Evidence simply because that evidence relates to alleged criminal conduct for which a defendant has been acquitted. See id. Such evidence is excluded only if it determines an ultimate issue in the present case. See id. The confession signed by Defendant in 1992 is not an ultimate issue in the present case. Rather, the government seeks to introduce the confession consistent with Federal Rule[] of Evidence...414 to demonstrate Defendant's propensity to engage in sexual acts against minors. As such, admission of the confession is not barred by collateral estoppel.

-CM

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/evidenceprof/2013/09/federal-rule-of-evidence-414aprovides-that-in-a-criminal-case-in-which-a-defendant-is-accused-of-child-molestation-the.html

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