Law School Case Brief
People v. Ewoldt - 7 Cal. 4th 380, 27 Cal. Rptr. 2d 646, 867 P.2d 757 (1994)
The California Supreme Court of California overrules People v. Tassell, 36 Cal.3d 77, 679 P.2d 1 (1984) and People v. Ogunmola, 39 Cal.3d 120, 701 P.2d 1173 (1985) to the extent they hold that evidence of a defendant's uncharged similar misconduct is admissible to establish a common design or plan only where the charged and uncharged acts are part of a single, continuing conception or plot. The Supreme Court of California holds instead that evidence of a defendant's uncharged misconduct is relevant where the uncharged misconduct and the charged offense are sufficiently similar to support the inference that they are manifestations of a common design or plan.
Defendant Craig Ewoldt was charged with committing lewd acts and molesting the complainant, his stepdaughter. At trial in California state court, the court admitted both evidence of Ewoldt's similar uncharged misconduct with the complainant as well as testimony from the complainant's older sister that Ewoldt had committed prior, uncharged lewd acts upon the older sister. The evidence showed that on three occasions, Ewoldt molested the older sister at night while she was asleep in her bed. When discovered, Ewoldt asserted he was only straightening up the covers. In two of the current charged offenses, Ewoldt molested the complainant in an almost identical fashion and, when discovered, proffered a similar excuse. Ewoldt was convicted of committing the felony of a lewd act upon a child under the age of 14 in violation of Cal. Penal Code § 288(a) and the misdemeanor of annoying or molesting a child under the age of 18 in violation of Cal. Penal Code § 647.6. The court of appeal reversed, holding that the trial court erred in admitting the older sister's testimony. The State was granted a petition for review.
Was it an error to admit the testimony of the of the older sister to establish the lewd conduct of Ewoldt?
The state supreme court reversed the appellate court's judgment and reinstated Ewoldt's conviction. The court held that evidence of Ewoldt's uncharged misconduct shared sufficient common features with the charged offenses to support the inference that both the uncharged misconduct and the charged offenses were manifestations of a common design or plan. According to the court, evidence of prior misconduct committed with persons other than the prosecuting witness was admissible to show a common design or plan where the prior offenses were not too remote in time, were similar to the offense charged, and were committed upon persons similar to the prosecuting witness.
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