Third Circuit Grants a New Trial in Drug Distribution Case
In Unites States v. Terrell Davis, Police arrested Terrell Davis after finding him in a Jeep with nearly a kilo of cocaine in the backseat. The arrest led to a conviction for possession with intent to distribute. As evidence that Davis recognized the cocaine in the Jeep, the government proved at trial that he had two prior convictions for possessing cocaine. However, the government never proved that the cocaine from his past was similar in appearance, quantity, or form. The matter was appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. The Appeals Court granted a new trial reasoning that the prior convictions were inadmissable to prove knowledge or intent for possession with intent to distribute.
The Federal Rules of Evidence and American courts have long excluded evidence of a person’s prior bad acts and prior crimes. A person charged with a crime, may only have their prior bad acts and prior crimes introduced at trial for very specific and limiting purposes. This tradition reflects a fear that the jury will place too much weight on past crimes and prior misdeeds.“[I]t is said to weigh too much with the jury and to so overpersuade them as to prejudice one with a bad general record and deny [the accused] a fair opportunity to defend against a particular charge.” Michelson v. United States, 335 U.S. 469, 476 (1948). The risk is that jurors will focus on evidence of prior acts, believing that someone with a criminal record cannot change and may discount any evidence to the contrary.
All persons charged with crimes are entitled to the protections afforded by the United States Constitution and the rules of evidence in a criminal court of law. An experienced criminal defense attorney helps to ensure that a defendant’s rights are protected before, during and after a trial. If you have been charged with or convicted of a criminal offense, you should consult with a criminal defense attorney immediately. For a confidential consultation, contact the Law Offices of Marc Neff at (215) 563-9800 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.