United States v. Curtis Case Brief

Summary of United States v. Curtis, 644 F.2d 263 (1981)

Facts: The Df, Curtis, claimed the DEA forced or coerced him to distribute methamphetamines. The govt’ case consisted solely of the testimony of an undercover agent and an informant.

Issue: Whether the admission of evidence, by way of the prosecution’s questions of the defendant’s character witnesses, over objections, was improperly put to the jury?

Holding: Yes, the cross-examination was improper because it put nothing before the jury bearing on the defendant’s character additional to the fact of his participation, which he conceded.

Procedure: Guilty verdict, distribution and possessing a firearm during a felony; Df objected to questioning, then moved for post-trial new trial denied by tr. ct. Ct of App. Reversed/Remand.

Rule: Proof of character may be made by testimony as to reputation or by testimony in the form of an opinion, and on cross-examination, inquiry is allowable into relevant specific instances of conduct.

Rationale: Relevant specific instances of conduct are only instances going to the accuracy of the character witnesses’ testimony. If their direct testimony is addressed to community reputation, inquiry may be made about conduct, and even about charges that have come to the community’s attention, but if opinion evidence is offered in proof of character, relevant cross is only that which bears on the fact or factual basis for formation of the opinion. 1st the ct believed that reputation at the time of trial rather than at the time of commission of the offense was the relevant factor. The rule is otherwise. The ct’s summary of the examination does not fairly depict what was permitted. Whether the Df had the disposition to commit the offense rested on his community reputation as a peaceful law abiding citizen, and that was relevant. The prosecutor made use of other crimes evidence not known to the community, or attempted to elicit opinions from a reputation witness based on instances of other, and later wrongdoing.

FRE 405 (a) is not a merger between reputation and opinion evidence. The reference to “relevant specific instances of conduct" is to instances of conduct relevant to the type of testimony offered on direct. Thus opinion witnesses can be cross-examined only on matters bearing on his own opinion, while a reputation witness can only be examined on matters reasonably proximate to the time of the alleged offense and likely to have been known to the relevant community at the time. The cross must be confined to conduct relevant to the character trait to which the direct testimony was directed.



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