Law School Case Brief
United States v. Guardia - 135 F.3d 1326 (10th Cir. 1998)
When balancing Fed. R. Evid. 413 evidence under Rule 403, the district court should not alter its normal process of weighing the probative value of the evidence against the danger of unfair prejudice. In Rule 413 cases, the risk of prejudice will be present to varying degrees. Propensity evidence, however, has indisputable probative value. That value in a given case will depend on innumerable considerations, including the similarity of the prior acts to the acts charged, and the need for evidence beyond the testimony of the defendant and alleged victim. Because of the sensitive nature of the balancing test in these cases, it will be particularly important for a district court to fully evaluate the proffered Rule 413 evidence and make a clear record of the reasoning behind its findings.
On Sept. 5, 1996, a federal grand jury in New Mexico returned an indictment charging defendant David Guardia with two counts of sexual abuse in violation of 18 U.S.C.S. § 2242(2)(A). In addition, the grand jury charged Guardia under the Assimilative Crimes Statute, 18 U.S.C.S. § 13, with two counts of criminal sexual penetration in violation of N.M. STAT. ANN. § 30-9-11(E) (Michie Supp. 1997) and two counts of battery in violation of N.M. STAT. ANN. § 30-3-4 (Michie 1978). These charges arose from Guardia's allegedly improper behavior during gynecological exams he performed at Kirtland Air Force Base in Oct. and Nov. of 1995. At trial in federal district court, Guardia filed a motion in limine to exclude evidence proffered by the Government under Federal Rule of Evidence 413, which consisted of the testimony of four women who alleged that Guardia abused them during gynecological examinations in a manner similar to the alleged abuse of two other victims. The district court granted Guardia's motion, finding under Federal Rule of Evidence 403 that the risk of jury confusion substantially outweighed the probative value of the Rule 413 evidence. The Government appealed.
Did the district court err in granting Guardia's motion to exclude the testimony preferred by the Government?
The appellate court affirmed the district court's order. The court held that Rule 413 superseded Rule 404(b), which provided a general exclusion for propensity evidence such as the testimony proffered by the Government. The court then held that the balancing test under Rule 403 was applicable to evidence that fit within the ambit of Rule 413. Additionally, the court concluded that the district court did not abuse its discretion in determining that the probative value of the evidence was substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice. In reaching its conclusion, the court held that nothing indicated that a more lenient balancing test should be applied to evidence under Rule 413.
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