Court Reverses Defendant's Conviction


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Case: People v. Felton, Michigan Court of Appeals

Issues:

Other acts evidence; MRE 404(b); People v. Denson; People v. Sabin (After Remand); People v. Allen; People v. Knox; People v. VanderVliet; Notice; MRE 404(b)(2); Good cause for failing to comply with the notice requirement; People v. Jackson; Harmless error

Summary:

The court held that the trial court erred in admitting other acts evidence against defendant, and that the error was not harmless. He was convicted of possession with intent to deliver less than 50 grams of a controlled substance, second or subsequent offense. The court first held that the other acts evidence introduced against defendant was procedurally inadmissible. It was “undisputed that ‘written notice’ was not timely provided to defendant and that ‘oral notice on the record’ was not provided until one day before trial.” And this late notice “did ‘unfair[ly] surprise’ [him] and did not provide him with time to ‘marshal arguments regarding both relevancy and unfair prejudice.’” In addition, it found that there was not good cause to excuse the non-compliance, noting the trial court “improperly put the burden on the defendant to produce evidence while it accepted the prosecutor’s statements—that were wholly unsupported by any evidence—as conclusive.” The court next agreed with defendant that the trial court abused its discretion in admitting the testimony of two witnesses because the other acts they described were dissimilar to the charged offense and because this evidence was unfairly prejudicial, noting that a “common scheme or plan was also not established as to the testimony of” either witness. “The overwhelming effect of” the other acts testimony “was the inference that defendant had a propensity for distributing drugs . . . .” This is “precisely the inference forbidden under MRE 404(b). Thus, the probative value of the other acts evidence was substantially outweighed by unfair prejudice to defendant.” Finally, the court held that these errors were not harmless, given that without the improperly admitted evidence, the case against defendant rested on one witness’s self-serving testimony. It also noted “the closeness of the properly admitted evidence and the ‘substantial danger’ posed by character evidence” to the trial process. Reversed and remanded.

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