Don’t Pull the Rope!

Posted on February 5, 2013


Today in Evidence class, the discussion was of Federal Rule of Evidence 404(b), which is all about reasons evidence of past acts may be admissible. Evaluation of evidence under this rule requires they first pass 404(a), which says you can’t admit evidence of other acts to establish the character of a person for the purpose of having the jury infer from the character trait thus established that they are more likely to have done the thing they are being tried for. Character evidence is considered too prejudicial to be allowed.

For example, if a man is on trial for possessing a gun as a felon, evidence of the past felony must be presented to establish that he violated the law, but an effort must be made to limit the use of the evidence of the felony so that the jury doesn’t conclude he’s just a lousy criminal and convict based on what they think of his character rather than the specific acts he committed. So the defense might stipulate (agree to admit as a fact) that he has a felony on record, or a conviction record might be admitted with unnecessary details stricken from it (such as the specific crime).

Our casebook nicely lays out the analysis with a flowchart, and we have run through many example problems to see if the case made for admitting evidence goes through the “propensity” box (i.e., this guy is a rotten egg and because he did X he’s more likely to have done Y that he’s on trial for), or goes around it (i.e., this guy did X, which requires advanced hacking skills only a handful of people in the world possess, which means he had means to do Y that he’s on trial for).

Through all these analyses, the professor kept repeating, “You can’t go through the box!”

Having recently been subjected to a great deal of the Doodlebops, this reminded me of every episode, in which Moe goes to pull a rope and everyone repeatedly shouts, “Don’t pull the rope!”

(This is not Snort; He sometimes dances, but doesn’t talk back to the TV just yet.)

My brain has thus made the association between the Doodlebops and Federal Rule of Evidence 404(b) analysis. I doubt I’ll ever shake it. Hopefully it will never lead me to call out in court, “Objection! Don’t pull the rope!”

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Posted in: Law, Parenting