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N.C. Gen. Stat. § 8C-1, N.C. R. Evid. Rule 404(b) (2005) is a clear general rule of inclusion of relevant evidence of other crimes, wrongs, or acts by a defendant, subject to but one exception requiring its exclusion if its only probative value is to show that the defendant has the propensity or disposition to commit an offense of the nature of the crime charged. Rule 404(b) states that evidence of other crimes, wrongs, or acts may be admissible if probative of motive, opportunity, intent, preparation, plan, knowledge, identity, or absence of mistake, entrapment or accident. This list of proper purposes is neither exclusive nor exhaustive. Thus, so long as evidence of defendant's prior acts makes the existence of any fact at issue, other than the character of the accused, more or less probable, that evidence is admissible under Rule 404(b). Despite this broad notion of inclusion, the rule is not without limitations, and any Rule 404(b) evidence should be carefully scrutinized in order to adequately safeguard against the improper introduction of character evidence against the accused.
Michael Peterson appealed from a judgment entered consistent with the jury's verdict finding him guilty of first-degree murder. Peterson argued that a warrant used to collect evidence from his Peterson also argued that evidence of prior misconduct and sexual orientation was errantly introduced to the jurors and affected their ability to render a fair decision.
Did Peterson receive a trial free from prejudicial error?
The appeals court found that although a search warrant affidavit did not include any indication, other than the amount of blood, that would suggest a search of Peterson’s computer would lead to information regarding a potential homicide, and the affidavit only included a wholly conclusory statement that the affiant had probable cause to search the computers in Peterson’s house, the State met its burden; the evidence and testimony admitted at trial pursuant to the warrant did not prejudice Peterson pursuant to U.S. Const. amend. IV in light of other properly admitted evidence. This same evidence was presented through numerous other sources. The admission of evidence pursuant to N.C. Gen. Stat. § 8C-1, N.C. R. Evid. 404(b) (2005) regarding an individual close to Peterson who seventeen years prior to the wife's death was found dead at the bottom of a set of stairs was proper. Evidence of the individual's death was probative of Peterson’s intent, knowledge, and the absence of accident in the victim's death, and the trial court found the evidence to be relevant, with seventeen similarities between the individual's death and that of the wife's.