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NCJRS Abstract

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NCJ Number: 78174 Find in a Library
Title: Propensity To Misunderstand the Character of Specific Acts Evidence
Journal: Iowa Law Review  Volume:66  Issue:4  Dated:(May 1981)  Pages:777-810
Author(s): R B Kuhns
Date Published: 1981
Page Count: 33
Format: Article
Language: English
Country: United States of America
Annotation: This article argues that neither the concept of propensity nor the concept of character is helpful to an understanding of how courts have ruled or should rule on the admissibility of specific acts evidence; restructuring of the rules is proposed.
Abstract: Proof that a criminal defendant has committed specific acts other than those included in the current charge may be relevant to prove the defendant's guilt. However, there are important factors that militate against the use of such evidence. First, the probative value of the inference from conduct on other occasions to conduct on the occasion in question may be relatively weak. Second, introduction of such evidence may be distracting. Third, other acts evidence may have a prejudicial impact on the factfinder. Thus, courts uniformly prohibit the use of specific acts to prove a person's character for the purpose of showing action in conformity with character. Although character is not defined, it appears to include only those qualities of personality that have some moral overtone. Under both the exclusionary and inclusionary formulations of the specific acts evidence rule, potentially prejudicial bad acts are frequently admissible. Thus, there is merit to any formulation of a rule which, like rule 404 (b) of the Federal Rules of Evidence, recognizes the importance of balancing probative value against prejudice. It is suggested, however, that recognizing the need to balance probative value against prejudice is only the first step in a rational approach to the admissibility of specific acts evidence. As character and propensity concepts do not provide a viable basis for distinguishing between admissible and inadmissible specific acts evidence, it would be desirable to eliminate the traditional prohibition against the use of specific acts to prove character, and to evaluate the admissibility of all specific acts evidence in terms of a balancing test. The most important function of a rule setting forth a balancing requirement is to give an indication whether and under what circumstances there should be a preference for admission or exclusion of evidence. The article includes 151 footnotes.
Index Term(s): Conviction records; Criminal histories; Defendants; Exclusionary rule; Federal Code; Law reform; Rules of evidence; Trial procedures
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