Thursday, August 26, 2010

Going Beyond Relevance

Capital Murder Conviction Reversed for Improper “Bad Acts” Evidence Offered by the State.

The State had a solid Capital Murder case against Desmond Dewayne Jackson. Here’s some of the evidence the State introduced to show that Jackson robbed the victim, shot him, and then fled:
  • Jackson admitted to a friend that he committed the murder.
  • Jackson admitted that before he attempted the robbery (which resulted in the murder) he studied the victim’s routine of going into the bank and returning with money for his store.
  • Jackson stated that he killed the man with “a .45.”
  • The victim died of gunshot wounds from a .45 caliber pistol.
  • Jackson stated that he stole approximately $8,000 and fled through the woods.
  • The victim had just received $8,884 from the bank.
  • Nearby witnesses saw a man fitting Jackson's description flee into the woods near the time of the murder.
  • Expended shells seized during a search of Jackson’s house had similar bunting markings as the shells found at the scene of the murder.
  • Jackson flew from Dallas to Atlanta the day after the crime.
  • Jackson’s wife had some poorly explained absences from work on the day of the crime.
  • Jackson lied to the police on several occasions concerning his whereabouts on the day of the crime.
Despite what the 6th District Court of Appeals characterized in its opinion as “substantial evidence of guilt,” the State apparently did not feel that it had enough. Perhaps that was why, at the conclusion of the defense case-in-chief, the State spent another 2 and ½ days introducing “rebuttal” evidence that Jackson also committed an armed robbery of a Kroger grocery store using a .45 caliber pistol. The State did not contend (at trial or on appeal) that the crimes were related nor did it allege that the two crimes demonstrated a modus operandi (common scheme) by the perpetrator. Rather, the State offered the extraneous offense evidence “to prove identity, to prove intent, and/or to rebut a defensive theory.”

The general rule is that extraneous offense (other bad acts) evidence is not admissible to prove the character of a person in order to show that he acted in conformity with that character on the day in question. It may be admissible, however, to prove motive, opportunity, intent, preparation, plan, knowledge, identity, or absence of mistake or accident. In this case, the State chose “identity” and “intent” as the exceptions de jure in its attempt to offer this unrelated offense to the jury.

Regarding the identity exception, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has explained that
When the extraneous offense is introduced to prove identity, the extraneous offense must be so similar to the charged offense that the offenses illustrate the defendant’s distinctive and idiosyncratic manner of committing criminal acts.
Martin v. State, 173 S.W.3d 463 (Tex. Crim. App. 2005). As an illustration of this principle, think about the movie Home Alone, in which the burglars always left the water on in the home they burglarized in an attempts to be known as “The Wet Bandits.” In this case, however, as the court points out,
the only similarities between the pawn shop murder and the Kroger robbery are that both offenses were armed robberies committed with a .45 caliber pistol. We see no similarities that indicate a distinctive and idiosyncratic manner of committing criminal acts.
The State argued that the Kroger robbery, in which no one resisted or was injured, shows that Jackson intended to kill the victim in the pawn shop robbery because he resisted. Jackson argued, however, that he did not contest the issue of intent. Citing the CCA case of Rankin v. State, 974 S.W.2d 707 (Tex. Crim. App. 1996)(op. on reh’g), the Court explained:
When the State’s evidence on intent is uncontradicted by the defendant or not undermined by cross-examination of the State’s witnesses, the offer of other crimes is unjustified due to the lack of relevancy. Because Jackson never contested intent, the extraneous-offense evidence was inadmissible under Rule 404.
In holding that the trial court abused its discretion by allowing the State to introduce the Kroger robbery, the Court next had to consider whether the error resulted in harm. While noting the “substantial evidence of guilt” in the case, the Court stressed that there are other factors it must consider when determining harm, including “the character of the alleged error and how it might be considered in connection with other evidence in the case.” The Court further stated:
Extraneous-offense evidence is inherently prejudicial, tends to confuse the issues, and forces the accused to defend himseld against charge not part of the present case against him. By its very nature, an improperly admitted extraneous offense tends to be harmful.
Holding that the evidence of the Kroger robbery may have had a profound effect on the jury’s decision, the Court concluded that it was reversible error.

Capital murder conviction and LWOP sentence reversed and remanded.  Read the opinion HERE.