The Law School Authority

United States v. Beechum Case Brief

Summary of United States v. Beechum, 582 F.2d 898 (1978)

Facts: The Df, a letter carrier was found in possession of an 1890 silver dollar that he knew was stolen, and the govt introduced evidence two unsigned credit cards found in his wallet at the time of his arrest, that did not belong to him, to prove that he had the requisite intent to steal the initial coin.  The df had possessed the credit cards for 10 months prior.  The df took the stand and invoked his 5th Amendment protection in response to the government’s questioning on the issue of the credit card theft.  The trial court allowed the questions and allowed the credit card to be introduced as extrinsic offense evidence going to the Df’s intent to possess the coin unlawfully.

Issue: Whether the doctrine, concerning the admissibility of a person’s prior offenses in relation to a their current indictment, can be used to prove criminal intent during cross-examination?

Holding: Where there is evidence that intent will be an issue at trial, the admission of extrinsic offense as part of the govt’s case in chief is not grounds for reversal.

Procedure: Jury trial convicted Df of unlawful possession of stolen property from the mail; Affirmed.

Rule: FRE 404(b), evidence of extrinsic offenses is not admissible solely to prove bad character, even if relevant, when the prejudicial effect outweighs the probative value, but it may be relevant, (to an issue such as intent), and admissible where the extrinsic offenses probative value is not substantially outweighed by its inherent prejudice.

Rationale: The jury was entitled to assess the credibility of the Df’s testimony.  Where the Df testified to controvert an element of the govt’s case, such as intent, extrinsic offense evidence is highly relevant. Two step approach: 1) the extrinsic offense evidence must be determined to be relevant to an issue other than character; 2) the evidence must possess probative value that is not substantially outweighed by its undue prejudice and must meet FRE 403’s requirements (confusion of the issues, or misleading the jury, or by considerations of undue delay, waste of time, or needless presentation of cumulative evidence).  FRE 401 established the standards for relevancy:   “evidence having any tendency to make the existence of any fact that is of consequence to the determination of the action more probable or less probable that it would be without the evidence.”  Where the evidence sought to be introduced is an extrinsic offense, its relevance is a function of its similarity to the offense charged, which means that in determining  relevance ‘a fact is similar to another only when the common characteristic is the significant one for the purpose of the inquiry at hand. As a predicate to a determination of extrinsic offense relevance, the govt must offer proof that the Df committed the extrinsic offense.  If the proof is insufficient the judge must exclude b/c it is irrelevant.  Once it is determined that the extrinsic offense requires the same intent as the charged offense and the jury (FRE 104(b)), could find that the Df committed the extrinsic offense, the evid. satisfies the first step of FRE 404(b).  The next step is determining whether probative vs substantial outweigh by assessing all of the circumstances surrounding the extrinsic offense.  The overall similarity btwn the extrinsic and charged offense generates sufficient probity to meet FRE 403’s test.

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