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Evidence of Prior Act OK, but Not Evidence of Acquittal

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By Tanya Roth, Esq. on May 04, 2012 4:08 PM

Is other act" evidence based on acquitted conduct admissible? The Eighth Circuit Court of appeals grappled with that question recently in a case involving methamphetamine distribution and firearm charges.

The defendant was acquitted on three drug and weapon charges stemming from a 2010 incident. After a mistrial was declared on two other charges, a second trial occurred. At that trial, evidence on the acquitted charge was admitted, but the jury was not told that the charge resulted in an acquittal in the first trial.

The defendant was convicted in the retrial.

He appealed his conviction, arguing that evidence of his prior drug transaction had minimal probative value and that its prejudicial effect substantially outweighed any probative value.

The probative value, he argued, was diminished by the fact that he was acquitted on those charges.

The fact that the acquittal never came up before the jury was an issue, the defendant argued before the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals.

The appeals court found that the evidence of the prior act was relevant to the present case. Particularly, the court stated that the events involved in the prior charge were material to the issues and charges in the retrial.

The court also noted that while the defendant had been acquitted as to the lack of reasonable doubt, there was still a preponderance of evidence that he had committed the acts.

Interestingly, the court held that the evidence of the fact that the defendant was acquitted on the prior charges was not admissible. The court stated that the government's failure to show that the defendant broke the law in one case was not relevant to show whether or not he broke the law in the second case.

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