Law School Case Brief
United States v. Beechum - 582 F.2d 898 (5th Cir. 1978)
What Fed. R. Evid. 404(b) calls for is essentially a two-step test. First, it must be determined that the extrinsic offense evidence is relevant to an issue other than the defendant's character. Second, the evidence must possess probative value that is not substantially outweighed by its undue prejudice and must meet the other requirements of Fed. R. Evid. 403.
Orange Jell Beechum had been a substitute letter carrier in South Dallas, Texas for approximately two and one-half years prior to his arrest on September 16, 1975. Because Beechum had been suspected of rifling the mail on several occasions, postal inspectors planted in a mailbox on Beechum's route a letter containing the silver dollar, a greeting card, and sixteen dollars in currency. According to the testimony of one of the inspectors, the currency had been dusted with a powder visible only under ultraviolet light. A postal inspector observed Beechum retrieving the mail from the mailbox in which the letter had been planted and noted that Beechum stopped at a record shop for approximately one hour before returning to the South Dallas Postal Station. At the station, Beechum turned in the raw mail containing the test letter, and it was discovered that the letter had been opened and resealed. The silver dollar and the currency were missing. Approximately thirty minutes after having arrived at the station, Beechum was apprehended as he walked toward his automobile. The arresting inspector informed Beechum that a letter had been planted in the mailbox Beechum had emptied earlier and that the letter had been opened and its contents were missing. Before any questioning, the inspector read Beechum his Miranda rights and Beechum indicated that he understood his rights. The inspector then asked Beechum to empty his pockets. Standing with his front pockets everted, Beechum professed to have relinquished all, but a frisk revealed the silver dollar in his hip pocket. At this time, the inspector discovered in Beechum's wallet the two Sears credit cards, which were not issued to Beechum and had not been signed. The Government indicted Beechum on one count for unlawfully possessing the silver dollar. Argument at the preliminary hearing indicated that the primary issue in the case would be whether Beechum harbored the requisite intent to possess the silver dollar unlawfully. In its case in chief, the Government introduced the credit cards and explained the circumstances surrounding their obtention. By stipulation, the Government introduced the Sears documents indicating that the two cards had been issued to the parties named on those cards. At the close of the Government's case in chief, the defense moved for a directed verdict of acquittal, alleging that the Government had failed to come forward with sufficient evidence to establish that Beechum possessed the silver dollar with a requisite specific intent that the government is required to establish in the case. The defense further argued that the Government had failed to demonstrate that the credit cards were unlawfully taken from the mail or that Beechum possessed the cards without authorization. The district court convicted Beechum; consequently, Beechum appealed his conviction, claiming that the trial court improperly admitted the credit cards as evidence. According to the defense, the credit cards were extrinsic to Beechum’s indictment to prove his criminal intent.
Did the district court err in allowing the credit cards to be admitted as extrinsic offense evidence on the issue of Beechum's intent to possess the silver dollar unlawfully?
Sitting en banc, the appellate court found that evidence of the extrinsic offense was validly admitted because defendant put his intent at issue by testifying that he had not intended to possess the coin unlawfully. According to the appellate court en banc, the defendant was not prejudiced by his refusal on cross-examination to answer questions on U.S. Const. amend. V grounds. A case establishing a higher standard than evidentiary rules for admission of evidence of extrinsic offenses was overruled because proper standard was whether sufficient evidence existed for the jury to find that defendant committed the extrinsic offense.
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