Law School Case Brief
United States v. LeCompte - 131 F.3d 767 (8th Cir. 1997)
Fed. R. Evid. 414 provides that in a criminal case in which the defendant is accused of an offense of child molestation, evidence of the defendant's commission of another offense or offenses of child molestation is admissible, and may be considered for its bearing on any matter to which it is relevant.
Before the trial of Leo LeCompte for the alleged sexual abuse of his wife's 11-year old niece under 18 U.S.C. §§ 2244(a)(1) and 2246(3) (1994), LeCompte moved in limine to exclude evidence of prior uncharged sex offenses against another niece by marriage, "T.T." The government argued that the evidence was admissible under Federal Rule of Evidence 414 (Evidence of Similar Crimes in Child Molestation Cases). The District Court excluded the evidence under Rule 403. The government appeals this evidentiary ruling. Such pretrial appeals are authorized by 18 U.S.C. § 3731 (1994).
Did the district court err in excluding evidence of LeCompte 's previous uncharged sex offenses?
On appeal, the Court reversed and held that the motion in limine should not have been granted. The Court ruled that the district court erred in its assessment that the probative value of the previously abused child's testimony was substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice. Moreover, the Court held that the danger of unfair prejudice noted by the district court was that presented by the unique stigma of child sexual abuse, on account of which defendant might have been convicted not for the charged offense, but for his previous sexual abuse. The Court ruled however that that danger was one that all propensity evidence in such trials presented.
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