People v Watkins

Michigan Supreme Court Allows Statutory "Prior Bad Acts" Evidence in Sexual Assault Cases


This 4/3 opinion of the Michigan Supreme Court resolves the conflict between a statute that allows evidence of "prior bad acts" of the accused in sexual assault cases, and the more restrictive evidentiary rule that, until now, had governed the introduction of prior bad acts.

MRE 404(b) was considered a safeguard to the introduction of "prior bad acts". The evidence offered could not be offered to support the prosecutor's proposition that the accused acted in conformity with a propensity to commit the charged conduct. There had to be something more; like a pattern of conduct, or a scheme, plan or system. Splitting hairs here, if you ask me...

The statute applicable in sexual assault cases, on the other hand, evidence of prior bad can be considered by a jury for it bearing on any matter that is relevant.

The majority opinion written by Justice Zahra, holds that the statute controls, and that trial courts must review the proffered "prior bad acts" evidence for its probative value, not its prejudicial effect. So much for the traditional balancing test of MRE 403.

The dissent written by Justice Marilyn Kelly is troubled that the legislature has usurped the function of the judiciary by promulgating this statute. It is for trial courts, not the legislature, according to Justice Kelly, to determine the relevance and thus, the admissibility, of specific evidence.

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Reference Info:Decision | State, 6th Circuit, Michigan | United States

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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