Are you worried about your past?  Are you concerned about what someone claims you did and how this is going to affect your criminal case?  In general, prior felony convictions can be used against you if you testify at trial.  But can the government call witnesses to testify against you to say what you did in the past, even if you were never charged as  a crime?  In many cases, the government can’t offer evidence to show that what you did in the past makes you guilty of the crime you are currently charged with (“bad acts” evidence). 

Bad acts evidence is considered untrustworthy.  There is a belief that as time changes, so do individuals, and people should be judged on the present.     However, sometimes the government may be able to offer evidence of your prior behavior, even if it was never charged as a crime. 

If the government wants to offer your prior bad acts at trial, it must file a motion.  This motion is a document filed with the court.  You or your attorney and the judge will get a copy.  You will have a chance to respond in writing.  The motion will say what the government want to claim you did in the past and why it should be allowed.  Some reasons your prior actions could be allowed are to show:

1.        Motive; (This is usually used in domestic violence cases when the victim changes her story).
2.        Opportunity;
3.        Intent; (This is commonly seem in sex crimes);
4.        Preparation;
5.        Plan; (This is usually seen in sex crimes cases).
6.        Knowledge;
7.        Identity, or
8.        Absence of mistake or accident.  (This is commonly used in child abuse cases).

Sometimes, the government will claim that the prior bad acts are necessary to present the complete story of the crime.  Either way, this is bad news for a defendant because he usually has no chance to convince the jury that he didn’t do what the government said he did in the past. Plus, you don’t want the jury to be confused by past allegations and find a defendant guilty based on that!

Not only does the government need to make one of these claims, it also must convince the judge that the bad acts are: (1) relevant to the crimes charged; (2) proven by clear and convincing evidence; and (3) that the evidence is more probative than prejudicial.  Here, the judge will look whether the prior conduct is similar to the crime charged, the length of time between the prior action and the current charge, and how often the prior conduct occurred.

The danger of the jury convicting someone merely because they think he is a bad person is the danger of allowing bad acts.  A trial and verdict should be based on the evidence presented, not whether a person would make a good prom king or queen.  However, in the attempt to make us “secure,” courts are giving a lot of leeway to the government.  This results in a conviction rates regardless of guilt or innocence.  

If you are facing a prior bad acts motion, you need immediate, professional, knowledgeable assistance.  You must do absolutely everything you can to avoid the jury being prejudiced against by what someone says you did in the past.  Call us, and let our decades of experience work for you.  

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