New Jersey Court Explains the Prior Bad Acts Exclusion

If a person is charged with a crime, the State must prove each element of the charge in order to obtain a conviction. While the State may rely on direct and circumstantial evidence in support of its position that a person committed a crime, in most instances, the State is not permitted to introduce evidence of a person’s prior crimes or bad acts to demonstrate that the person is guilty of a current charged offense. Recently, a New Jersey appellate court discussed the prior bad acts exclusion in a case in which the State appealed the trial court’s ruling barring evidence of prior charges. If you are charged with a crime, it is in your best interest to discuss your charges with a capable New Jersey criminal defense attorney to assess what evidence the State may attempt to introduce against you.

Facts of the Case

It is reported that the defendant was charged with numerous crimes on separate occasions. Specifically, in 2014 the defendant was charged with weapons crimes and receiving stolen property but was ultimately acquitted. The charges arose out of the seizure of a gun from a hidden compartment in the defendant’s dashboard. In 2017, the defendant was charged with numerous weapons and drug offenses, and a warrant again revealed a gun hidden in a secret compartment in the dashboard of the defendant’s car. Prior to trial, the defendant filed a motion asking the court to preclude evidence of the gun found in the hidden compartment as set forth in the 2014 case. The trial court granted the motion, and the State appealed.

Evidence of Prior Crimes and Bad Acts

Under New Jersey law, evidence of prior crimes, bad acts, or wrongs, is generally not admissible unless it is used to demonstrate motive, intent, preparation, opportunity, or the absence of mistake or accident when such issues are relevant to the primary issue in dispute. In other words, it is a rule of exclusion, not inclusion, and courts must exercise caution in deciding whether to admit such evidence, as it has a tendency to be prejudicial. Particularly, evidence suggesting that a defendant committed a prior crime is more likely to persuade a jury that it is probable that a defendant committed the crime with which he or she is currently charged, and a court must carefully analyze whether it should be admitted.

In sum, a court assessing whether evidence of prior crimes and bad acts should be admitted must weigh whether the evidence is relevant to a material issue, whether it is similar in kind to the charged offense, whether the evidence of the other crime is convincing and clear, and whether its probative value outweighs the risk of prejudice. Here, the appellate court found that the prejudice posed by the evidence of a gun in the hidden compartment in the defendant’s car in the 2014 case was far greater than its probative value. As such, the appellate court affirmed the trial court ruling.

Speak to an Experienced New Jersey Attorney

If you are charged with a crime, it is important to understand what evidence the State may introduce and what defenses you may be able to assert. At The Law Offices of Jonathan F. Marshall, our experienced criminal defense attorneys are adept at defending people charged with weapons offenses and other crimes, and if you engage our services, we will fight zealously to help you protect your rights. You can reach us at 877-450-8301 or through our form online to set up a meeting regarding your case.

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