CrimProf Blog

Editor: Kevin Cole
Univ. of San Diego School of Law

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Davis on Addiction, Criminalization, and Character Evidence

Michael Davis (Independent) has posted Addiction, Criminalization, and Character Evidence (96 Texas L. Rev. 619 (2018)) on SSRN. Here is the abstract:
A drug addict’s addiction is no defense to drug crimes. Criminal law rejects the disease model of addiction, at least insofar as the model would inform the Eighth Amendment, the voluntary act doctrine, or the insanity defense. This Note does not take issue with the criminalization of addiction, arguing merely that it should preclude evidence law’s treatment of addiction as something other than immoral.

The rule against character evidence precludes evidence of an immoral propensity when offered to prove action in conformity with that propensity. But in prosecutions for property crimes, courts routinely admit evidence of a defendant’s addiction on the theory that it proves a motive, not an immoral propensity. The law’s rejection of the disease model, though, teaches that an addict will only decide to acquire and use drugs if she succumbs not to an irresistible compulsion, but to a temptation to do wrong. 

Criminal law’s treatment of addiction should have force in the law of evidence because, right or wrong, and among other reasons, criminalization teaches jurors that action in accordance with addiction is immoral. And the prejudice that arises from a perception of the defendant as prone to immorality is precisely the reason we have a rule against character evidence.

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