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United States v. Trenkler - 61 F.3d 45 (1st Cir. 1995)

Rule:

Fed. R. Evid. 404(b) proscribes the use of other bad-act evidence solely to establish that the defendant has a propensity towards criminal behavior. This proscription, however, is not absolute. The rule permits the use of such evidence if it bears on a material issue such as motive, knowledge, or identity. The court has adopted a two-part test for determining the admissibility of Fed. R. Evid. 404(b) evidence. First, the district court must determine whether the evidence has some special relevance independent of its tendency simply to show criminal propensity. Second, if the evidence has special relevance on a material issue, the court must then carefully conduct Fed. R. Evid. 403 analysis to determine if the probative value of the evidence is not substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice. 

Facts:

A bomb exploded at the Roslindale home of Thomas L. Shay ("Shay Sr."), killing one Boston police officer and severely injuring another. Defendant was convicted of conspiracy, receipt of explosive materials with knowledge and intent that they would be used to kill, injure and intimidate, and cause damage to real and personal property, and malicious destruction of property by means of explosives. Defendant contended on appeal that it was error for the district court to have allowed evidence of another bombing to have been presented. The court affirmed the conviction, finding that the district court did not abuse its discretion in determining that the numerous similarities in components, design, and technique of assembly, combined with the similar modus operandi and the closeness of geographic proximity between the two events, sufficiently supported the inference that the same person built both bombs. 

Issue:

Was the conviction proper?

Answer:

Yes.

Conclusion:

The court affirmed the conviction, finding that the district court did not abuse its discretion in determining that the numerous similarities in components, design, and technique of assembly, combined with the similar modus operandi and the closeness of geographic proximity between the two events, sufficiently supported the inference that the same person built both bombs. The held that it was proper to allow evidence of prior acts because the government showed that there existed a high degree of similarity between the other act and the charged crime. The government demonstrated that the two acts exhibited a commonality of distinguishing features sufficient to earmark them as the handiwork of the same individual.

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