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United States v. Sam

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

October 24, 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 [Doc. No. 43]. Having considered the motion, the Government's response [Doc. No. 44');">44], and applicable statutory and case law, and being otherwise fully informed in the premises, the Court finds as follows:

         I. Procedural History

         The Government charged Sam with (1) one count of assault with a dangerous weapon under 18 U.S.C. § 113(a)(3), and (2) one count of assault resulting in serious bodily injury under 18 U.S.C. § 113(a)(6) [Doc. No. 1]. The indictment alleges Sam assaulted a fellow Choctaw Indian on the Pearl River Community of the Choctaw Indian Reservation in Neshoba County, Mississippi [Doc. No. 1].

         This case was originally tried on August 28-29, 2017. The Court declared a mistrial on August 29, 2017 after the jury failed to reach a verdict [Minute Entry of 8/29/17]. This case is set for re-trial on October 30, 2017.

         With trial approaching, Sam moves to exclude evidence of her prior convictions or bad acts under Federal Rules of Evidence 403 and 404(b) [Doc. No. 43].[1] Sam fails to pinpoint any prior conviction or bad act; instead, she advances the legal conclusion “that any prior bad acts on which the Government may rely simply are not admissible under Rule 404(b)” [Doc. No. 43, p. 2');">p. 2].

         The Government does not intend to use any of Sam's prior bad acts or convictions in its case-in-chief [Doc. No. 44');">44, p. 1]. Yet the Government “reserves the right” to use five convictions or bad acts: (1) a 2005 conviction for assault with a deadly weapon; (2) a 2015 assault with a baseball bat; (3) a 2016 tribal court conviction for battery/domestic; (4) a 2017 aggravated assault with a beer bottle; and (5) evidence of threats to harm a potential witness [Doc. No. 44');">44, pp. 1-2].

         II. Discussion

         Prior bad acts or convictions are inadmissible to prove a person's bad character. Fed.R.Evid. 404(b); United States v. Wallace, 759 F.3d 486, 493 (5th Cir. 2014). But they may be admitted for another purpose if (1) the prior bad act is relevant to an issue other than the defendant's character; and (2) its probative value is not substantially outweighed by its undue prejudice under Rule 403. United States v. Jones, ___ F.3d ___, 2017 WL 4564238, *9 (5th Cir. 2017) (citing United States v. Beechum, 582 F.2d 898, 911 (5th Cir. 1978) (en banc)).

         The relevance of a prior bad act or conviction “is a function of its similarity to the offense charged.” Beechum, 582 F.2d at 911. For example, a defendant's prior conviction is relevant to the defendant's intent to commit the charged offense if the prior conviction required proof of the same culpable mental state as the charged offense. See, e.g., Smith, 804 F.3d at 736. The reasoning is “the defendant had unlawful intent in the extrinsic offense, ” therefore “it is less likely that he had lawful intent in the present offense.” Id. at 911.

         After assessing relevance, the Court shifts its focus to the familiar Rule 403 analysis. To determine if the probative value of the prior conviction or other bad act substantially outweighs its prejudicial effect, the Court considers “(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.” United States v. Smith, 804 F.3d 724, 736 n. 50 (5th Cir. 2015) (internal quotation marks omitted). In the Rule 404(b) context, the Rule 403 factors guard against a jury's tendency to convict a defendant for an extrinsic offense, rather than the one for which she stands trial. See Beechum, 582 F.2d at 914.

         Although the Government disclaims any intention of using Sam's prior convictions or other bad acts in its case-in-chief, the Court addresses the admissibility of each in turn.

         A. 2005 Conviction - Assault with a Deadly Weapon

         The Government “reserved the right” to offer evidence of Sam's 2005 conviction for assault with a deadly weapon [Doc. No. 44');">44, p. 1]. Sam's 2005 assault conviction is inadmissible unless (1) is relevant to an issue other than Sam's character; and (2) its probative value ...


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