Law School Case Brief
United States v. Stacy - 769 F.3d 969 (7th Cir. 2014)
To overcome an opponent's objection to the introduction of other-act evidence, the proponent of the evidence must first establish that the other act is relevant to a specific purpose other than the person's character or propensity to behave in a certain way. Fed. R. Evid. 401, 402, 404(b). Other-act evidence need not be excluded whenever a propensity inference can be drawn. But its relevance to "another purpose" must be established through a chain of reasoning that does not rely on the forbidden inference that the person has a certain character and acted in accordance with that character on the occasion charged in the case. If the proponent can make this initial showing, the district court must in every case assess whether the probative value of the other-act evidence is substantially outweighed by the risk of unfair prejudice and may exclude the evidence under Fed. R. Evid. 403 if the risk is too great. The court's Rule 403 balancing should take account of the extent to which the non-propensity fact for which the evidence is offered actually is at issue in the case.
Defendant Marty Stacy was convicted in federal district court after a jury trial of conspiracy to manufacture methamphetamine, 21 U.S.C.S. §§ 841(a)(1), 846, and possession of pseudoephedrine knowing that it would be used to manufacture methamphetamine, 21 U.S.C.S. § 841(c)(2). The district court sentenced him to a prison term of 336 months. On appeal, Stacy argued that the district court misapplied Federal Rule of Evidence 404(b) by admitting evidence of his prior possession of methamphetamine and unreasonably imposed a prison sentence that did not account for an alleged disparity in treatment of pseudoephedrine and methamphetamine offenses.
Did the district court err in admitting evidence of Stacy's prior involvement with methamphetamine under Fed. R. Evid. 404(b)?
At trial for conspiracy to manufacture methamphetamine, 21 U.S.C.S. §§ 841(a)(1), 846, and possession of pseudoephedrine knowing that it would be used to manufacture methamphetamine, 21 U.S.C.S. § 841(c)(2), the district court erred by admitting evidence of Stacy's prior involvement with methamphetamine under Fed. R. Evid. 404(b). However, the evidentiary error was harmless. Witnesses testified about how they provided Stacy with pseudoephedrine pills for the purpose of making methamphetamine and the government backed up this testimony with purchase logs from local pharmacies. Multiple other witnesses testified that they had received pseudoephedrine pills from defendant to make into methamphetamine. There was no evidence that the district court acted unreasonably by not mitigating defendant's sentence based on unraised concerns about pseudoephedrine conversion ratios.
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