Michigan Court Discusses the Introduction of Prior Bad Act Evidence at Criminal Trials

The prosecution bears the burden of proving a criminal defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. While the prosecution can offer both direct and circumstantial evidence to meet this burden, it cannot rely on evidence relating to the defendant’s prior bad acts or convictions to demonstrate the defendant’s character or to imply that they acted in accordance with that character during the commission of the alleged offense. As explained in a recent Michigan ruling, such evidence can be offered for other reasons, however, such as to establish intent or motive. If you are charged with a crime, it is important to understand your rights, and you should speak to a Michigan criminal defense attorney as soon as possible.

History of the Case

It is reported that the defendant was charged with distributing controlled substances and sex trafficking. He had numerous prior convictions for firearm offenses, possessing and distributing controlled substances, and receiving and controlling stolen property. The defendant filed several pre-trial motions, including a motion to preclude the prosecution from admitting evidence of his prior convictions.

Prior Bad Act Evidence

Pursuant to Federal Rule of Evidence 404, evidence of a prior act, wrong, or crime is not admissible for the sole purpose of establishing a defendant’s guilt. It may be admissible for other purposes, however. For example, it may be used to establish motive, intent, plan, preparation, opportunity, or knowledge. It can also be offered to demonstrate identity, a lack of accident, or an absence of mistake.

Before a court can admit prior act evidence, it must engage in a three-step analysis. First, it needs to make a preliminary finding regarding whether there is sufficient evidence showing the prior act actually occurred. Second, the court must find that the prior act is admissible for one of the purposes set forth in Rule 404. Third, the court must apply Rule 403’s balancing test to assess whether the probative value of the evidence greatly outweighs the danger of unfair prejudice or other concerns set forth in Rule 403.

In the subject case, the court found that the defendant’s prior convictions for controlled substantive offenses were probative of an intent to distribute. Further, the court found that the defendant’s prior convictions were similar to his current changes, which increased their relevance. Finally, the court found that any prejudice the introduction of such evidence would cause could be mitigated via limiting jury instructions. Thus, the court denied the defendant’s motion as it pertained to his prior drug crime convictions.

Meet with a Seasoned Michigan Criminal Defense Attorney

Michigan law protects criminal defendants from the prosecution’s use of unjust evidence at trial, and if the state violates the defendant’s protections, it may constitute grounds for reversing a conviction. If you are charged with violating state or federal law, you should meet with an attorney to discuss your potential defenses. Sam Bernstein of ArborYpsi Law is a seasoned Michigan criminal defense lawyer with the skills and experience needed to help you seek a just outcome, and if you hire him, he will advocate zealously on your behalf. You can reach Mr. Bernstein through the form online or by calling (734) 883-9584 to set up a meeting.

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