Conversely, it is up to the Fort Lauderdale criminal defense attorneys to spot when such evidence may be irrelevant or unnecessarily prejudicial to a defendant. In other words, does the evidence really reflect actual guilt in the matter before us, or is it simply a way for prosecutors to taint the character of the defendant in the eyes of the judge or jury.
In the case of U.S. v. Bailey, heard in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, justices ruled to vacate the defendant’s conviction after successful argument that prosecutors were improperly allowed to present irrelevant and prejudicial evidence.
This was a white collar crimes case involving a CEO of a successful company that sold dietary supplements. Back in 2002, the CEO and another man began doing business together, and the nature of the legitimacy of their dealings was a key issue at trial.
In 2003, the Securities and Exchange Commission filed a civil complaint against the CEO, claiming he had violated a federal rule that requires any distribution of stock to be in exchange for legitimate services. In the absence of this, a voluminous public disclosure is required, and this was reportedly not done.
The following year, criminal charges were filed against the CEO relating to the same issue, after it was alleged that the stocks the CEO issued to the other businessman were not a legitimate exchange of services as prescribed by SEC rules.
Before the trial began, prosecutors filed a motion in limine, seeking to introduce evidence of the civil complaint, saying this would show that the CEO knew his conduct in 2004 was against the law. The judge allowed it, but warned prosecutors not to get “too in-depth.”
The CEO was subsequently convicted and sentenced to 2.5 years in prison.
He then appealed on the basis that the prosecution was allowed to introduce the prior civil complaint. The CEO’s attorney argued that this piece of evidence essentially amounted to “other act evidence,” which is prohibited under Federal Rule of Evidence 404. What this rule basically says is that evidence that is introduced solely to illustrate a person’s character is not admissible in the court of law. It does permit evidence of prior wrongs, but only to prove motive, opportunity, preparation, plan, knowledge, identity or to show that the current act was not an accident.
While the government in this case argued that the prior SEC civil complaint was to show proof of intent and knowledge, there is specific criteria that must be met in order to qualify for that legal standard. That includes the following:
1. It must prove a material point;
2. It must not have occurred “too remote in time”;
3. It must be sufficient as to support a finding that the defendant committed the act in question;
4. In certain situations, it must be similar to the offense that is charged.
So for example, if you are charged with theft, your domestic violence conviction is probably not relevant to the current case and any evidence of it should be suppressed.
In this case, the appellate court justices determined that prosecutors had not met this burden of proof in order to introduce the prior SEC civil complaint. What’s more, the complaint was likely to have established a significant prejudice for the jury.
As a result, the CEO was handed a new trial.
If you are charged with a crime in Palm Beach or Broward counties, contact the Law Offices of Leifert & Leifert, a Partnership of Former Prosecutors, for a free consultation to discuss your rights. Call 1.888.5.DEFEND.