Delaware Trial Handbook § 20:8. EVIDENCE OF OTHER CRIMES, WRONGS OR BAD ACTS

Apart from the use of a criminal conviction as an admission in a civil action arising from the same conduct95 or for impeachment purposes,96 the use of evidence of other crimes, wrongs or bad acts of a party is severely limited.

Evidence of other crimes, wrongs or acts committed by a party is not admissible to prove the character of a person in order to show that the person acted in conformity therewith or to support a general inference of bad character.97 Other wrongs or acts include acts before or after the event at issue,97.1 and are not limited to criminal acts. They may include civil wrongs such as torts, claims of discrimination, fraud or misrepresentation,98 and may include actions which, of themselves, are not of themselves wrongful, such as writing letters or rap lyrics.98.1 The policy of this rule is to prevent the trier of fact from taking evidence of prior acts as evidence of the guilt or liability of a party for the action at issue in the present trial.99

Evidence of other crimes, wrongs or acts is admissible, however, if such evidence has independent probative significance, i.e., the evidence is material to an issue of ultimate fact in the case as opposed to showing a mere propensity or disposition to commit the wrongful act.100 Thus, evidence of other crimes or wrongful acts may be admissible to prove motive,101 opportunity to commit the act,102 intent (where intent is an element of the crime or civil claim or to rebut a defense),103 preparation,104 plan (where the prior act forms part of the background of the alleged act to which the prior acts are inextricably linked and without which a full understanding of the offense is not gained),105 knowledge,106 identity (particularly where the prior acts are so unusual and distinctive that their relationship to the offense may establish identity)107 or absence of mistake.108 Prior crimes or other wrongs have also been admitted to allow a defendant to establish the subjective state of mind necessary to establish a defense, such as self-defense,109 as well as to rebut a defense,110 to establish the weight of illegal drugs,111 to rebut evidence of bias of the complaining  witness,112  to demonstrate the basis for police conduct,113 to show that a statement about prior criminal activity was made by a defendant in order to threaten or intimidate the victim, where force or threat of harm was an element of the crime charged,114 to determine whether a confession was voluntary115 and to show consciousness of guilt.116

In civil malpractice cases, absent an independent justification, license suspensions in other jurisdictions may not be introduced as they not relevance to showing negligence in the case at issue.116.1

Evidence of other crimes or bad acts may also be introduced when such evidence is inextricably intertwined with evidence of the charged offense.117 Evidence may be admitted for this purpose only if the evidence, if excluded, would create a chronological and conceptual void in the State’s case to the jury that would likely result in significant confusion.118

Evidence of other crimes or bad acts may not be introduced for the purpose of establishing a claim for punitive damages. The only relevant acts for that purpose are the acts giving rise to the claim.119  To be admissible, evidence of other crimes must not only be introduced for a purpose other than establishing propensity to commit the crime or wrongful act, but must also be material to an issue or ultimate fact in the case.120 Evidence is material if it tends, of itself or in connection with other evidence, to influence the result reached by the jury.121

The evidence to be introduced to prove the prior act must be plain, clear and conclusive.122 Eyewitness testimony, or testimony given by the crime victim, generally is deemed sufficient to satisfy this standard.123 Mere evidence of arrest or indictment, however, is insufficient, as arrest is not an indication of guilt.124

The prior acts also must not be too remote in time in relation to the conduct at issue in the trial.125 Evidence of prior acts will generally be deemed remote only if there is no visible, plain or necessary connection between the evidence and the proposition eventually to be proved.126  In determining whether a prior act is too remote in time, however, courts apply a sliding scale based on relevance.  The more remote an act is in time, the less likely it is that the prior act will be considered relevant and probative, and an act occurring ten or more years in the past will be considered presumptively irrelevant.126.1

After determining that the evidence is material, proper and not too remote in time, the trial  court must determine, in its discretion, whether the probative value of the evidence will not be substantially outweighed by its prejudicial effect.127 In conducting such a weighing process, a court should consider such factors as (i) the extent to which the point to be proven is in dispute; (ii) the adequacy of the proof of the prior conduct; (iii) the probative force of the evidence; (iv) the proponent’s need for the evidence; (v) the availability of less prejudicial proof; (vi) the inflammatory or prejudicial effect of the evidence; (vii) the similarity of the prior wrong to the charged offense; (viii) the effectiveness of limiting instructions and (ix) the extent to which prior act evidence would prolong the proceedings.127.1 If the trial judge decides to admit the evidence of prior acts, the jury must be instructed as to the limited purpose for which such evidence is being offered.128

In criminal cases, as the government has no assurance that a defendant will supply the necessary predicate issue in its case in defense, the government can offer other misconduct evidence as part of its case in chief, provided that the government makes the necessary proffer of specific relevance.129

A criminal defendant seeks to introduce evidence of bad acts of a third party, for example to show that someone else committed a similar crime or series of crimes and thereby imply that he or she must have also committed the crime in question.  In such circumstance, the trial judge should examine (1) whether the evidence is being offered for a purpose permitted by Rule 404(b), (2) whether the evidence is relevant, and (3) whether the probative value of the evidence is outweighed by potential prejudice, undue delay, or confusion of the issue..  However, prejudice to the defendant is not a consideration, since it is the defendant seeking to admit the evidence.  Absent a specific request by a party for a case-specific reason, the admission of such evidence at the request of the defendant does not require any automatic limiting instruction to the jury.129.1

95. See § 17:6.

96. See § 14:4.

97. D.R.E. 404(b); Gregory v. State, 616 A.2d 1198, 1203 (Del. 1992); Zimmerman v. State, 565 A.2d 887, 890 (Del. 1989); Howard v. State, 549 A.2d 692, 693 (Del. 1988); Weber v. State, 547 A.2d 948, 955 (Del. 1988); Getz v. State, 538 A.2d 726, 730-31 (Del. 1988); Baynard v. State, 518 A.2d 682, 692 (Del. 1986); State v. Hynson, No. 412, 1990, slip op. at 4, Christie, J. (Del. Feb. 24, 1992) (ORDER), disposition reported at 608 A.2d 730 (Del. 1992) (TABLE); Smiley v. State, No. 423, 1990, slip op. at 4, Walsh, J. (Del. Jan. 31, 1992) (ORDER), disposition reported at 608 A.2d 730 (Del. 1992) (TABLE); Northwood v. State, No. 306, 1989, slip op. at 3, Horsey, J. (Del. Sept. 5, 1990) (ORDER), disposition reported at 582 A.2d 936 (Del. 1990) (TABLE); O’Connor v. State, No. 457, 1988, slip op. at 5, Moore, J. (Del. Apr. 26, 1990) (ORDER), disposition reported at 577 A.2d 754 (Del. 1990) (TABLE); McDonald v. State, No. 36, 1987, slip op. at 6, Holland, I. (Del. June 8, 1989) (ORDER), disposition reported at 561 A.2d 992 (Del. 1989) (TABLE); State v. Walls, 541 A.2d 591, 593 (Del. Super. 1987), aff’d mem., 553 A.2d 639 (Del. 1988); State v. Swanson, Cr. A. No. 1N92-01-6626, slip op. at 4, Goldstein, J. (Del. Super. May 20, 1992); State v. Hunter, Cr. A. Nos. 1N88-10-0033-0035, slip op. at 1 n. 1, Barron, J. (Del. Super. Apr. 26, 1989), aff’d, mem., 582 A.2d 935 (Del. Sept. 17, 1990); Starkey v. Hunt-Madani, P.A., C.A. No. 84C-SE-50, slip op. at 8, Gebelein, J., (Del. Super. Mar, 31, 1988), reh’g denied, C.A. 84C-SE-50, Gebelein, J. (Del. Super. Apr. 4, 1988).

97.1. Joynes v. State, 797 A.2d 673, (675 (Del.2002); Getz v. State, 538 A.2d 726, 730 n. 3 (Del.1988).

98. Kendall v. State, 762 A.2d 1191, 1193-94 (Del. 1999); Mercedes-Benz of North America, Inc. v. Norman Gershman’s Things to Wear, Inc., 596 A.2d 1358, 1365 (Del. 1991).

98.1. Joynes v. State, 797 A.2d 673, 676-77 (Del.2002); Bright v. State, 740 A.2d 927, 932-33 (Del.1999).

99. Coleman v. State, 562 A.2d 1171, 1178 (Del. 1989), cert. denied, 493 U.S. 1027 (1990); Getz v. State, 538 A.2d 726, 730 (Del. 1988); Smiley v. State. No. 423, 1990, slip op. at 4, Walsh, J. (Del. Jan. 31, 1992) (ORDER), disposition reported at 608 A.2d 730 (Del. 1992) (TABLE). Evidence of a criminal defendant’s propensity to commit crime or general bad character is inconsistent with the presumption of innocence. Getz v. State, 538 A.2d 726, 731 (Del. 1988).

100. Dollard v. State, 838 A.2d 264, 267 (Del. 2003); Weber v. State, 547 A.2d 948, 995 (Del. 1988); Weddington v. State, 545 A.2d 607, 616 n.l5 (Del. 1988); Wiest v. State, 542 A.2d 1193, 1196 n.3 (Del. 1988).

101. D.R.E. 404(b); Warren v. State, No. 218, 1992, slip op. at 9, Horsey, J. (Del. Apr. 8, 1993) (ORDER), disposition reported at 625 A.2d 280 (Del. 1993) (TABLE); Steedley v. State, No. 377, 1991, slip op. at 3, Walsh, J. (Del. Sept. 21, 1992) (ORDER), disposition reported at 615 A.2d 532 (Del. 1991) (TABLE); Dorman v. State, No. 434, 1990, slip op. at 4-5, Moore, J. (Del. Jan. 27, 1992) (ORDER), disposition reported at 608 A.2d 726 (Del. 1992) (TABLE); State v. MacDonald, Cr. A. No. 1N90-10-1063, slip op. at 2-3, Barron, J. (Del. Super. Jan. 20, 1993).

102. D.R.E. 404(b); Rochen v. Huang, C.A. No. 87C-JN-96 slip op. at 10, Gebelein, J. (Del. Super. Jan. 6, 1989).

103. D.R.E. 404(b); Getz v. State, 538 A.2d 726, 731 (Del. 1988); Diaz v. State, 508 A.2d 861, 865 (Del. 1986); Dorman v. State, No. 434, 1990, slip op. at 4-5, Moore, J. (Del. Jan. 27, 1992)(ORDER), disposition reported at 608 A.2d 726 (Del. 1992) (TABLE); Simpson v. State, No. 340, 1990, slip op. at 6, Holland, J. (Del. Dec. 19, 1991) (ORDER), disposition reported at 608 A.2d 730 (Del. 1991) (TABLE); Jacoby v. State, No. 348, 1988, slip op. at 8, Moore, J. (Del. Dec. 27, 1989) (ORDER), disposition reported at 571 A.2d 787 (Del. 1989) (TABLE).

104. D.R.E. 404(b).

105. D.R.E. 404(b); Pope v. State, 632 A.2d 73, 76-77 (Del. 1993); Getz v. State, 538 A.2d 726, 733 (Del. 1988); Bantism v. State, 45 Del. 487, 85 A.2d 741, 745-46 (Del. 1952); Northwood v. State, No. 306, 1990, slip op. at 3, Horsey, J. (Del. 1990) (ORDER), disposition reported at 582 A.2d 936 (Del. 1990) (TABLE); O’Connor v. State, No. 457, 1988, slip op. at 5-6, Moore, J. (Del. Apr. 26, 1990) (ORDER), disposition reported at 577 A.2d 754 (Del. 1990) (TABLE).

106. D.R.E. 404(b); Enders v. State, No. 62, 1986, slip op. at 6-7, Walsh, J. (Del. June 24, 1987) (ORDER), disposition reported at 527 A.2d 1241 (Del. 1987) (TABLE); Starkey v. Hunt-Madani, P.A., C.A. No. 84C-SE-50, slip op. at 8, Gebelein, J., (Del. Super. Mar. 31, 1988), reh’g denied, C.A. 84C-SE-50, Gebelein, J. (Del. Super. Apr. 4, 1988).

107. D.R.E. 404(b); Hanna v. State, 591 A.2d 158, 165 (Del. 1991); State v. Walls, 541 A.2d 591, 593 (Del. Super. 1987), aff’d mem., 553 A.2d 639 (Del. 1988); Getz v. State, 538 A.2d 726, 733 (Del. 1988); Dutton v. State, 452 A.2d 127, 145 (Del. 1982); McDonald v. State, No. 36, 1987, slip op. at 6, Holland, J. (Del. June 8, 1989) (ORDER), disposition reported at 561 A.2d 992 (Del. 1989) (TABLE); O’Connor v. State, No. 457, 1988, slip op. at 5, Moore, J. (Del. Apr. 26, 1990) (ORDER), disposition reported at 577 A.2d 754 (Del. 1990) (TABLE); State v. Hunter, Cr. A. Nos. IN-88-l0-0033-0035, slip op. at 3, Barron, J. (Del. Super. Apr. 26, 1989), aff’d, mem., 582 A.2d 935 (Del. 1990).

108. D.R.E. 404(b).

109. Tice v. State, 624 A.2d 399, 400-402 (Del. 1993).

110. Warren v. State, No. 218, 1992, slip op. at 9, Horsey, J. (Del. Apr. 8, 1993) (ORDER), disposition reported at 625 A.2d 280 (Del. 1993) (TABLE); Ryle v. State, No. 195, 1988, slip op. at 4, Horsey, J. (Del. July 28, 1989) (ORDER), disposition reported at 567 A.2d 35 (Del. 1989) (TABLE).

111. State v. Hynson, No. 412, 1990, slip op. at 6, Christie, J. (Del. Feb. 24, 1992) (ORDER), disposition reported at 608 A.2d 730 (Del. 1992) (TABLE).

112. Lloyd v. State, No. 239, 1990, slip op. at 5, Walsh, J. (Del. Nov. 6, 1991) (ORDER), disposition reported at 604 A.2d 418 (Del. 1991) (TABLE).

113. Pennell v. State, 602 A.2d 48, 53 (Del. 1991).

114. Weber v. State, 547 A.2d 948, 956 (Del. 1988).

115. Baynard v. State, 518 A.2d 682, 693 (Del. 1986); Lovett v. State, 516 A.2d 455, 468-69 (Del. 1986), cert. denied, 481 U.S. 1018 (1987).

116. Lovett v. State, 516 A.2d 455, 468-69 (Del. 1986), cert. denied, 481 U.S. 1018 (1987).

116.1. Riggs Nat. Bank v. Boyd, C.A. No. 96C-05-122-WTQ, Quillen, J. (Del. Super. Feb. 23, 2000), app. refused mem., 755 A.2d 390 (Del. 2000).

117. Pope v. State, 632 A.2d 73, 76 (Del. 1993); Bantum v. State, 85 A.2d 741, 745-46 (Del. 1952); Garboctowski v. State, 123 A. 395, 400 (Del. 1923); Zickgraf v. State, No. 324, 1991, slip op. at 4, Moore, J. (Del. Sept. 21, 1992) (ORDER), disposition reported at 615 A.2d 532 (Del. 1992) (TABLE). See also Weber v. State, 547 A.2d 948, 956-57 (Del. 1988); Tice v. State, 382 A.2d 231, 234 (Del. 1977).

118. Pope v. State, 632 A.2d 73, 76 (Del. 1993).

119. Rochen v. Huang, C.A. No. 87C-JN-96, slip op. at 13, Gebelein, J. (Del. Super. Jan. 6, 1989).

120. Pope v. State, 632 A.2d 73, 77 (Del. 1993); Kornbluth v. State, 580 A.2d 556, 558 (Del. 1990); Coleman v. State, 562 A.2d 1171, 1178 (Del. 1989), cert. denied, 493 U.S. 1027 (1990); Howard v. State, 549 A.2d 692, 693 (Del. 1988); Getz v. State, 538 A.2d 726, 734 (Del. 1988); Steedley v. State, No. 377, 1991, slip op. at 3, Walsh, J. (Del. Sept. 21, 1992) (ORDER), disposition reported at 615 A.2d 532 (Del. 1991) (TABLE); Dorman v. State, No. 434, 1990, slip op. at 4, Moore, J. (Del. Jan. 27, 1992) (ORDER), disposition reported at 608 A.2d 726 (Del. 1992) (TABLE); Lloyd v. State, No. 239, 1990, slip op. at 5, Walsh, J. (Del. Nov. 6, 1991) (ORDER), disposition reported at 604 A.2d 418 (Del. 1991) (TABLE); McDonald v. State, No. 36, 1987, slip op. at 7, Holland, J. (Del. June 8, 1989) (ORDER), disposition reported at 561 A.2d 992 (Del. 1989) (TABLE); State v. Hunter, Cr. A. Nos. 1N88-lO-0033-0035, slip op. at 3, Barron, J. (Del. Super. Apr. 26, 1989), aff’d mem., 582 A.2d 935 (Del. Sept. 17, 1990).

121. Lloyd v. State, No. 239, 1990, slip op. at 5, Walsh, J. (Del. Nov. 6, 1991) (ORDER), disposition reported at 604 A.2d 418 (Del. 1991) (TABLE).

122. Pope v. State, 632 A.2d 73, 77 (Del. 1993); Kornbluth v. State, 580 A.2d 556, 558 (Del. 1990); Howard v. State, 549 A.2d 692, 693-94 (Del. 1988); Getz v. State, 538 A.2d 726, 734 (Del. 1988); Diaz v. State, 508 A.2d 861, 865 (Del. 1986); Renzi v. State, 320 A.2d 711, 712 (Del. 1974); Zickgraf v. State, No. 324, 1991, slip op. at 4, Moore, J. (Del. Sept. 21, 1992) (ORDER), disposition reported at 615 A.2d 532 (Del. 1992) (TABLE); Dorman v. State, No. 434, 1990, slip op. at 5, Moore, J. (Del. Jan. 27, 1992) (ORDER), disposition reported at 608 A.2d 726 (Del. 1992) (TABLE); Simpson v. State, No. 340, 1990, slip op. at 7, Holland, J. (Del. Dec. 19, 1991) (ORDER), disposition reported at 608 A.2d 730 (Del. 1991) (TABLE); McDonald v. State, No. 36, 1987, slip op. at 6, Holland, J. (Del. June 8, 1989) (ORDER), disposition reported at 561 A.2d 992 (Del. 1989) (TABLE); State v. Walls, 541 A.2d 591, 593 (Del. Super. 1987), aff’d mem., 553 A.2d 639 (Del. 1988).

123. Johnson v. State, 983 A.2d 904, 934 (Del. 2009), cert. denied, ___ U.S. ___ (2010); Pope v. State, 632 A.2d 73, 77 (Del. 1993); Kornbluth v. State, 580 A.2d 556, 559 (Del. 1990); Howard v. State, 549 A.2d 692, 694 (Del. 1988); Diaz v. State, 508 A.2d 861, 865 (Del. 1986).

124. Gist v. State, No. 38, 1987, slip op. at 6-9, Christie, J. (Del. July 10, 1987) (ORDER), disposition reported at 529 A.2d 772 (Del. 1987) (TABLE).

125. Kornbluth v. State, 580 A.2d 556, 558 (Del. 1990); Howard v. State, 549 A.2d 692, 694-95 (Del. 1988); Getz v. State, 538 A.2d 726, 734 (Del. 1988); Zickgraf v. State, No. 324, 1991, slip op. at 4-5, Moore, J. (Del. Sept. 21, 1992) (ORDER), disposition reported at 615 A.2d 532 (Del. 1992) (TABLE); Dorman v. State, No. 434, 1990, slip op. at 5-6, Moore, J. (Del. Jan. 27, 1992) (ORDER), disposition reported at 608 A.2d 726 (Del. 1992) (TABLE); Simpson v. State, No. 340, 1990, slip op. at 6, Holland, J. (Del. Dec. 19, 1991) (ORDER), disposition reported at 608 A.2d 730 (Del. 1991) (TABLE); McDonald v. State, No. 36, 1987, slip op. at 6, Holland, J. (Del. June 8, 1989) (ORDER), disposition reported at 561 A.2d 992 (Del. 1989) (TABLE); State v. Hunter, Cr. A. Nos. 1N88-l0-0033-0035, slip op. at 4, Barron, J. (Del. Super. Apr. 26, 1989), aff’d mem., 582 A.2d 935, 1990 Del. LEXIS 294 (Del. Sept. 17, 1990).

126. Kendall v. State, 726 A.2d 1191, 1195 (Del. 1999); Lloyd v. State, No. 239, 1990, slip op. at 6, Walsh, J. (Del. Nov. 9, 1991) (ORDER), disposition reported at 604 A.2d 418 (Del. 1991) (TABLE).

126.1. Trowbridge v. State, 647 A.2d 1076, 1078 (Del. 1994); Allen v. State, 644 a.2d 982, 987-88 (Del. 1994).  See also State v. Fischer, I.D. No. 9401011124, slip op. at 13, Silverman, J. (Del. Super. Apr. 12, 1995) (event more than ten years in the past not too remote under the facts of the case).

127. D.R.E. 403; Pope v. State, 632 A.2d 73, 78 (Del. 1993); Dawson v. State, 581 A.2d 1078, 1097 (Del. 1990), vacated on other grounds, remanded, 503 U.S. 159 (1992); Kornbluth v. State, 580 A.2d 556, 558 (Del. 1990); Coleman v. State, 562 A.2d 1171, 1178 (Del. 1989), cert. denied, 493 U.S. 1027 (1990); Howard v. State, 549 A.2d 692, 695 (Del. 1988); Getz v. State, 538 A.2d 726, 734 (Del. 1988); Steedley v. State, No. 377, 1991, slip op. at 5, Walsh, J. (Del. Sept. 21, 1992) (ORDER), disposition reported at 615 A.2d 532 (Del. 1991) (TABLE); Dorman v. State, No. 434, 1990, slip op. at 6, Moore, J. (Del. Jan. 27, 1992) (ORDER), disposition reported at 608 A.2d 726 (Del. 1992) (TABLE); Simpson v. State, No. 340, 1990, slip op. at 6, Holland, J. (Del. Dec. 19, 1991) (ORDER), disposition reported at 608 A.2d 730 (Del. 1991) (TABLE); McDonald v. State, No. 36, 1987, slip op. at 10, Holland, J. (Del. June 8, 1989) (ORDER), disposition reported at 561 A.2d 992 (Del. 1989) (TABLE); Enders v. State, No. 62, 1986, slip op. at 10, Walsh, J. (Del. June 24, 1987) (ORDER), disposition reported at 527 A.2d 1241 (Del. 1987) (TABLE); State v. Hunter, Cr. A. Nos. 1N88-l0-0033-0035, slip op. at 4-5, Barron, J. (Del. Super. Apr. 26, 1989), affd mem., 582 A.2d 935 (Del. Sept. 17, 1990); State v. MacDonald, Cr. A. No. 1N90-10-1063, slip op. at 3, Barron, J. (Del. Super. Jan. 20, 1993).

127.1. DeShields v. State, 706 A.2d 502, 506-07 (Del. 1998).

128. Pope v. State, 632 A.2d 73, 78 (Del. 1993); Kornbluth v. State, 580 A.2d 556, 559 (Del. 1990); Howard v. State, 549 A.2d 692, 695 (Del. 1988); Weber v. State, 547 A.2d 948, 956 (Del. 1988); Getz v. State, 538 A.2d 726, 734 (Del. 1988); Dorman v. State, No. 434, 1990, slip op. at 6, Moore, J. (Del. Jan. 27, 1992) (ORDER), disposition reported at 608 A.2d 726 (Del. 1992) (TABLE); Simpson v. State, No. 340, 1990, slip op. at 6, Holland, J. (Del. Dec. 19, 1991) (ORDER), disposition reported at 608 A.2d 730 (Del. 1991) (TABLE); McDonald v. State, No. 36, 1987, slip op. at 10-li, Holland, J. (Del. June 8, 1989) (ORDER), disposition reported at 561 A.2d 992 (Del. 1989) (TABLE); Enders v. State, No. 62, 1986, slip op. at 7, Walsh, J. (Del. June 24, 1987) (ORDER), disposition reported at 527 A.2d 1241 (Del. 1987) (TABLE); State v. Hunter, Cr. A. Nos. 1N88-10-0033-0035, slip op. at 5, Barron, J. (Del. Super. Apr. 26, 1989), aff’d mem., 582 A.2d 935 (Del. Sept. 17, 1990).

129. Getz v. State, 538 A.2d 726, 734 (Del. 1988).

129.1. Norwood v. State, 95 A.3d 588, 595-97 (Del. 2014).

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