Law School Case Brief
United States v. Dennis - 625 F.2d 782 (8th Cir. 1980)
In determining whether evidence should have been excluded under Rule 403, a reviewing court must give great deference to the trial judge who saw and heard the evidence. Unfair prejudice means an undue tendency to suggest decision on an improper basis, commonly, though not necessarily, an emotional one. Confusion of the issues warrants exclusion of relevant evidence if admission of the evidence would lead to litigation of collateral issues. Admission of cumulative evidence bearing solely on credibility or impeachment is within the discretion of the trial judge. The general rule is that the balance should be struck in favor of admission.
Appellant Willi H. Dennis, was employed by the General Motors Assembly Division in St. Louis, Missouri. Dennis was engaged in money lending to fellow plant workers and others at twenty-five percent a week interest, a practice which he continued for almost a decade. On contested searches, certain documents were taken from Dennis that identified his debtors by name, amount of loan, interest paid and interest collected. He was named in a four-count grand jury indictment, charging a one-count violation of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Statute (RICO), 18 U.S.C. § 1962(c); two counts of collections of credit by extortionate means under ECT; and one count of obstruction of justice. Some charges were dropped, but ultimately, the jury found Dennis guilty on twelve counts and not guilty on six counts of violations of the Extortionate Credit Transactions Act and obstruction of justice. Challenging his convictions, Dennis asserted that there was an error in the admission of evidence seized pursuant to warrants, and a warrantless search of his automobile. Dennis also alleged that if reputation evidence was admissible, each count should have been tried separately to prevent confusion and prejudice.
Did the district court err in: (i) admitting evidence seized pursuant to warrants, and a warrantless search of his automobile; and, in (ii) not trying each count separately?
As to Dennis’ first contention, the appellate court ruled that the warrants for records were for a permissible generic class and set reasonable parameters. Consent was voluntary as to the automobile, even though swayed by agents' statements that they would get a search warrant. According to the appellate court, after dismissing a principal count of the indictment, allowing the government a 46 day continuance to reassess its case arguably served the ends of justice and was not a denial of appellant's U.S. Const. amend. VI right. With regard to Dennis’ second contention, the appellate court held that Dennis did not suffer any additional prejudice by having the offenses tried together. The appellate court opined that as the purpose of prior acts and reputation evidence in loansharking cases was to show intent, evidence of each offense would have been admissible on the element of intent at separate trials of each offense.
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