Admission of Prior Bad Acts at Trial
Under Certain Circumstances, Prior Bad Acts Can Be Used Against You in Civil and Criminal Cases.
Does your past make it more likely you committed a crime?
Lawyers are frequently told by clients, “I am a good person, and I can get people to come to court and say that.” This is called character evidence and for the most part, it is not admissible evidence and therefore cannot be used. Michigan Rules of Evidence 404(b) provides a bit of a backdoor for getting “bad” character evidence into evidence by allowing for the admission into evidence of other crimes, wrongs, or acts if they meet certain criteria and are not being used for proving the character of a person. This rule has been included in several Michigan statutes too.
MRE 404(b)(1) states, “[e]vidence of other crimes, wrongs, or acts is not admissible to prove the character of a person in order to show action in conformity therewith. It may, however, be admissible for other purposes, such as proof of motive, opportunity, intent, preparation, scheme, plan, or system in doing an act, knowledge, identity, or absence of mistake or accident when the same is material, whether such other crimes, wrongs, or acts are contemporaneous with, or prior or subsequent to the conduct at issue in the case.”
Test to See If Prior Bad Acts Can Be Used Against You
In order to use prior bad acts against a person, the act must pass the test established in People v Vandervliet, 444 Mich 52, 508 NW2d 114 (1993). This test requires:
- The evidence must be offered for a reason other than to show the tendency to commit a crime.
- The evidence must be relevant to a consequential issue of fact at trial.
- The court should decide that the evidence is more important to the consequential issue or fact then it is prejudicial to the person. The court should consider if there are other means of proof other than to use this evidence.
It is also important to note that there is no presumption that the prior bad acts should be excluded and the general denial of the charges does not automatically prevent the introduction of prior bad acts evidence. Lastly, the trial court does not have a higher standard in deciding relevancy, or if the evidence is more prejudicial than it is important to the facts and issues.
Prior Bad Acts Rule MRE 404(b) is Complicated To Interpret and Understand
Common sense would tell you that most things in your past should not be able to be used against you now. However, that is the reality facing criminal defendants. By way of example, MRE 404(b) could allow evidence of a prior identity theft in a trial for a current identity theft. This evidence would be used to show an absence of mistake or intent. Essentially, you committed the offense before, you most likely did it now. It is difficult to explain to a layperson that this rule exists and why there is a valid reason to fear it.
MRE 404(b) and the Michigan statutes that have adopted it in some fashion have hundreds of court opinions interpreting them and applying them to individual fact patterns. It is difficult for an attorney that does not do trial work to fully understand the inner workings of MRE 404(b) and prior bad acts, and frankly, their last contact with the rule was probably law school evidence class or the Bar Examination. This is why it is important that when you are facing a trial that you have an attorney that specializes in trial work and the courtroom is their second home.
The Trial Attorneys at LEWIS & DICKSTEIN, P.L.L.C. Can Help You.
MRE 404(b) is a tricky rule to understand and protect against. It is often even trickier to explain it to laypeople. The trial attorneys at LEWIS & DICKSTEIN, P.L.L.C. are in courtrooms every day and understand the evidence rules completely. The attorneys take their professional obligations extremely seriously and make sure to stay completely current on the law by taking continuing legal education classes and reading case updates. LEWIS & DICKSTEIN, P.L.L.C. was founded on the principle that every United States citizen has important constitutional rights that must be protected against governmental abuses. Further, every person is entitled to the very best legal representation and must not face the government without a passionate and knowledgeable advocate in their corner.
Call us today at (248) 263-6800 for a free consultation, or complete a Request for Assistance Form and we will contact you promptly.