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“Prior Bad Acts” Evidence in a New York Domestic Violence Cases

Evidence of someone’s prior acts is generally not admissible in a New York criminal trial. However, under The Guide to New York Evidence Sec. 4.21, evidence of past “crimes, wrongs, or other acts” may be admissible under certain limited situations.

Rule 4.21 specifically prohibits the introduction of prior-act evidence when it is being used to show that the defendant acted in conformity with that act, or if it is being used to show that a person had a propensity to act in a certain way. However, when the evidence is being offered for other reasons, such as to show someone’s motive, intent, opportunity, preparation, the existence of a common plan or scheme, knowledge, identity, or to establish the absence of a mistake, the evidence may be admitted if it is more probative than prejudicial.

Judges are left with the discretion to determine if prior-act evidence should be admitted. In a recent New York domestic violence case, an appellate court discussed Rule 4.21 and its application.

The Facts

According to the court’s opinion, the defendant was charged with assault and violating an order of protection that was taken out by his ex-fiancé. At trial, the prosecution presented evidence of the defendant’s previous acts of violence toward the complaining witness. The defendant objected to the admission of the evidence, but the court overruled the objection and allowed much of the evidence to be admitted after providing a limiting instruction explaining the reason why the evidence was admitted. The defendant was convicted and then appealed his conviction on several grounds, including the court’s admission of the prior-act evidence.

The court affirmed the lower court’s decision to admit the evidence. The court began by noting the general rule, that “evidence of prior uncharged crimes or bad acts may never be presented for the sole purpose of establishing a defendant’s criminal propensity or bad character.” However, the court went on to explain that domestic violence cases in particular, “are more likely to be considered relevant and probative evidence because the aggression and bad acts are focused on one particular person, [thus] demonstrating the defendant’s intent, motive, identity and absence of mistake or accident.” The court added that prior-act evidence could also help explain the history of the parties’ relationship and put potentially confusing facts into context.

Have You Been Arrested for New York Domestic Violence?

If you have recently been arrested and charged with New York domestic violence, the prosecution may try to bring in evidence of prior allegations against you. While the prosecution can try to admit this type of evidence in any case, it is most common in domestic violence cases. At the law firm of Tilem & Associates, we represent clients who are facing all types of New York criminal charges, including New York domestic violence matters and other charges of assault or battery. We take every precaution to ensure that our clients are provided with a fair trial, and are prepared to file all necessary motions to exclude unfavorable evidence. To learn more, call 877-377-8666 to schedule a free consultation today.

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