Thank You For Submiting Feedback!
When a defendant raises a self-defense claim, reputation evidence of the victim's violent character is relevant to show the victim as the proposed aggressor. A victim's use of unlawful force may justify the defendant's reciprocal use of force.
A jury convicted defendant Ralph Emeron Taken Alive, II of violating 18 U.S.C. § 111, which made it unlawful to assault, resist, or impede a federal officer engaged in his official duties. At trial, defendant argued that he acted in self-defense. As part of the defense, defense counsel stated that defendant and two other witnesses knew of officer’s reputation in the community for being overly aggressive, quarrelsome, and violent. The district court rejected defense counsel's proposed proof and excluded the evidence under Fed. R. Evid. 403, finding it highly prejudicial. The district court reasoned that it would be unfair and misleading to allow the jury to think that defendant had never been violent toward law enforcement officers while at the same time indicating that Officer Yellow was a violent person. Thereafter, the district court sentenced defendant to a term of imprisonment. Defendant appealed, arguing that the district court abused its discretion in refusing to admit evidence of the federal police officer's character under Fed. R. Evid. 404(a)(2) and 405.
Did the trial court abuse its discretion in refusing to admit evidence of the federal police officer's character under Fed. R. Evid. 404(a)(2) and 405?
The court held that the evidence of the police officer's character was crucial to defendant's self-defense case. The exclusion of that evidence prejudiced defendant and, thus, it was not a harmless error. Rather, defendant's substantial rights in presenting his self-defense case were affected. Accordingly, the court reversed the conviction and remanded for a new trial.