Rule 404(b) Unable to Introduce Evidence of a Crime when Defendant Deemed Not Guilty

State vs. J.M. – submitted by New Jersey Criminal Lawyer, Jeffrey Hark

In this case the Appellate Division ruled that Rule 404(b), evidence of other crimes, does not allow the the State to introduce evidence to a jury of a crime which a defendant has been found not guilty.  In this very lengthy and detailed opinion the court reviews the four Cofield factors a trial court must examine when asked if prior bad acts evidence can be admitted to a jury.

The court goes to great length to review the exact nature of the prior not guilty finding, the current charges, the similarity of charges, the fact that the defendant was found not guilty of the prior charges, and the practical effects of the introduction of such evidence.

The court also recognized the clear prosecutor’s ill-conceived intent to bring in this very evidence in these classic ‘he said-she said’ cases.  The court actually stated that it recognized the prosecutor’s office wanted to introduce the evidence because of the he said she said nature of the evidence and that this highly prejudicial but clearly harmful evidence of ‘other crimes’ is needed to convict.

In other words, they were doubtful of their case winning from the door. The court stated, ” These troubling circumstances, and others to which we shortly turn, further buttress our conclusion that acquittal- evidence should not be permitted to show a defendant’s guilt on the earlier occasion. To summarize, we conclude that a principled Cofield analysis bars admission of this evidence, and the trial judge’s contrary ruling constituted an abuse of discretion. We also conclude that acquittal-evidence should never be admitted in a later prosecution when offered to show that the prior charged offense actually occurred.

A complete reading of this case and the entire review of the cofield factors is key to a full and complete understanding of these issues at hand.

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