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United States v. Sam

United States District Court, S.D. Mississippi, Northern Division

August 23, 2017

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
IDA MAE SAM DEFENDANT

          ORDER

          DAVID BRAMLETTE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This cause is before the Court on defendant Ida Mae Sam's Motion in Limine Excluding Evidence of Defendant's Prior Convictions or Bad Acts (docket entry 22). Having carefully considered the motion, the government's response, and applicable statutory and case law, and being otherwise fully informed in the premises, the Court finds and orders as follows:

         The defendant, Ida Mae Sam (“Sam”), is charged in a two-count indictment alleging, inter alia, that she committed assault with a dangerous weapon, with intent to do bodily harm, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 113(a)(3) and assault resulting in serious bodily injury in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 113(a)(6). Trial in this matter is scheduled for August 28, 2017. In preparation for the upcoming trial, the defendant filed her Motion in Limine on August 16, 2017, wherein she requests that all evidence of her prior convictions or bad acts be excluded pursuant to Federal Rule of Evidence 404(b). Within her motion, Sam asserts that any evidence of prior convictions or bad acts upon which the government may rely “simply are not admissible under Rule 404(b).” Doc. 22, p. 2. Sam contends that the affirmative value of her past convictions, bad acts, or arrests is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice in this case. According to Sam, evidence of her criminal history and prior bad acts would tempt members of the jury to convict her based on their belief that she is a bad person, rather than on the belief that she is guilty of the crimes charged.

         In response to the motion, the Government has identified five prior bad acts and convictions of the defendant which it intends to introduce at trial: (1) a 2005 conviction for assault with a deadly weapon with intent to do bodily harm; (2) assault with a baseball bat in 2015; (3) a 2016 conviction in tribal court for Battery/Domestic, which involved an assault with a beer bottle and knife; (4) aggravated assault with a beer bottle in 2017; and (5) evidence of threats to harm a potential witness. See Doc. 23. The prosecution contends that each of these extrinsic acts and convictions are admissible for the purpose of proving intent under Rule 404(b). Should the Court allow the evidence, the Government also requests a limiting instruction to advise the jury to consider the extrinsic offenses evidence for its limited purpose.

         II. Discussion

         Under Rule 404(b), “evidence of a crime, wrong, or other act is not admissible to prove a person's character” in order to show that on a particular occasion the person acted in accordance therewith, but such evidence may be admissible for another purpose, “such as proving motive, opportunity, intent, preparation, plan, knowledge, identity, absence of mistake, or lack of accident.” Fed.R.Evid. 404(b)(1), (2). The admissibility of bad acts evidence under Rule 404(b) is governed by the two-part test set forth in United States v. Beechum, 582 F.2d 898, 911 (5th Cir. 1978) (en banc). This two-part inquiry requires a determination that: (1) “the extrinsic offense evidence is relevant to an issue other than the defendant's character, ” and (2) the evidence “possess[es] probative value that is not substantially outweighed by its undue prejudice . . . and meet[s] the other requirements of [Federal Rule of Evidence] 403.” United States v. Juarez, ___ F.3d ___, 2017 WL 3379261, at *2 (5th Cir. 2017) (quoting Beechum, 582 F.2d at 911).

         The relevance of an extrinsic offense under the first prong of the Beechum analysis “is a function of its similarity to the offense charged.” Beechum, 582 F.2d at 911. When extrinsic offense evidence is offered to prove intent, relevancy is determined by comparing the state of mind of the defendant in perpetrating both the extrinsic and charged offenses. Id. “A finding that the offenses involved the same state of mind renders the extrinsic offense relevant to an issue other than character because it lessens the likelihood that the defendant acted with lawful intent in connection with the charged offense.” United States v. Gordon, 780 F.2d 1165, 1173-74 (5th Cir. 1986). As a predicate to determining that the extrinsic offense is relevant, the Government must also offer sufficient proof demonstrating that the defendant committed the extrinsic offense. Beechum, 582 F.3d at 913 (noting the conditional relevance standard under Rule 104(b)); United States v. Smith, 804 F.3d 724, 735 (5th Cir. 2015) (“proof of an uncharged offense is sufficient if ‘the jury could reasonably find' that the offense occurred ‘by a preponderance of the evidence'”). “Once it is determined that the extrinsic offense requires the same intent as the charged offense and that the jury could find that the defendant committed the extrinsic offense, the evidence satisfies the first step under Rule 404(b).” Beechum, 582 F.3d at 913.

         As to the second prong of the Beechum test, several factors guide the Court's inquiry when weighing the evidence pursuant to Rule 403: “(1) the government's need for the extrinsic evidence, (2) the similarity between the extrinsic and charged offenses, (3) the amount of time separating the two offenses, and (4) the court's limiting instructions.” Juarez, ___ F.3d___ 2017 WL 3379261, at *2 (quoting United States v. Smith, 804 F.3d 724, 736 (5th Cir. 2015)). Additionally, the Court considers the overall prejudicial effect of the extrinsic evidence, which includes a “commonsense assessment of all the circumstances surrounding the extrinsic offense.” Id.

         Considering the standard for admissibility set forth in Rule 404(b) and Beechum, the Court shall address the admissibility of each of the proffered offenses in turn.

         A. 2005 Assault Conviction

         In 2005, Sam was convicted of assault with a deadly weapon with the intent to do bodily harm. As to the first prong under Beechum, the Court finds that this prior conviction is relevant to the issue of intent. The state of mind required for a conviction on this prior assault is the same as the state of mind required for the present offense, i.e. assault with a dangerous weapon with the intent to do bodily harm. Thus, evidence of the prior assault conviction is relevant to an issue other than character because it lessens the likelihood that Sam acted with lawful intent in connection with the charged assault.

         As to the second prong under Beechum, however, the Court is unconvinced that the 2005 conviction passes muster under Rule 403. While intent is a necessary element of the offense charged, the probative value of Sam's 2005 conviction is low. Though Sam's prior conviction appears to be for the same violent offense for which she is charged in this case, “[s]imilarity between the prior and charged offenses increases both the probative value and prejudicial effect of extrinsic evidence.” Juarez, ___ F.3d ___, 2017 WL 3379261, at *2. From the record, there is no apparent similarity between the facts and circumstances surrounding the prior assault and the assault charged here. Additionally, 10 years separate the prior conviction and charged assault, a fact which further lessens the probative value and weighs against admission. see Juarez, ___ F.3d ___, 2017 WL 3379261, at 3 (“This Court has found that evidence of misconduct committed less than three years prior to the charged crime is admissible, while suggesting that ten years may be too remote.”); but see United States v. Hernandez-Guevara, 162 F.3d 863, 872 (5th Cir. 1998) (“the age of a prior conviction has never been held to be a per se bar to its use under Rule 404”); United States v. Chavez, 119 F.3d 342, 346-47 (5th Cir. 1997) (holding that admission of defendant's fifteen-year old conviction to prove intent was not an abuse of discretion where the other evidence of intent was sparse). The 2005 assault conviction, a remote conviction presenting minimal factual similarity to the offense charged, will offer scant evidence of Sam's intent during the 2015 assault. Comparing the conviction's marginal probative value with the substantial prejudice which inevitably accompanies evidence of prior convictions for violent offenses, the Court finds that this extrinsic offense should be excluded. Sam's motion in limine is therefore granted as to the 2005 assault conviction.

         C. 2016 Battery/Domestic Conviction

         In addition to the 2005 assault conviction, the prosecution intends to introduce evidence showing that Sam was convicted of Battery/Domestic in tribal court in 2016 after assaulting an individual named O'Neal Bell with a beer bottle and knife. Less than three years separate Sam's 2016 conviction from the charged offense, and there appears to be some similarity between the charged assault and the prior assault forming the basis of Sam's 2016 conviction. That said, the Court recognizes the inherent prejudice which results from the admission of past convictions for violent offenses and finds that additional information is needed to properly assess the probative value of Sam's 2016 conviction in relation to its prejudicial ...


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