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United States v. Pisari - 636 F.2d 855 (1st Cir. 1981)

Rule:

Evidence may be admitted to prove other like crimes by the accused so nearly identical in method as to ear-mark them as the handiwork of the accused. Much more is demanded than the mere repeated commission of crimes of the same class, such as repeated burglaries or thefts. The device used must be so unusual and distinctive as to be like a signature.

Facts:

After a trial by jury, appellant was found guilty of committing a robbery by knife of a postal installation located in the Lambert Pharmacy in Medford, Massachusetts. Appellant claimed that the district court's admission of rebuttal testimony that appellant had told an undercover agent that he had committed a prior robbery by the use of a knife was prejudicial error.

Issue:

Did the trial court err in admitting rebuttal testimony by an undercover agent?

Answer:

Yes.

Conclusion:

The court reversed defendant's conviction, holding that the trial court erred in admitting rebuttal testimony by a undercover agent that three months prior to the robbery, defendant admitted to the agent that he had robbed a drug dealer using a knife. The government introduced the evidence to impeach defendant's testimony that he had not committed the prior robbery. The government filed a petition for rehearing of the court's decision. The court granted the petition, vacated its prior opinion, and issued a new opinion reversing defendant's conviction. The court determined that the agent's testimony was not admissible to show identity, as the government argued, because the crimes were not sufficiently distinctive to give rise to an inference that the same person was involved in both. Accordingly, the court found that the agent's testimony was inadmissible because it was related solely to a collateral matter. The court also determined that the error was not harmless because the testimony impaired defendant's credibility, which was a critical issue in the case.

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