Other-acts evidence is admissible when the other acts are interwoven with the offense, or when the other acts are relevant to prove an accused's motive, opportunity, intent, preparation, plan, knowledge, identity, absence of mistake or accident, or to prove that the defendant feared imminent bodily harm and that fear was reasonable. R.I. R. Evid. 404(b). If the trial justice finds that the probative value of the evidence outweighs the danger of unfair prejudice, the trial justice must offer a specific instruction as to the limited purpose for which the evidence is being introduced.
The State of Rhode Island indicted the defendant, Gerald Brown, with four counts of sexual assault and child molestation. At trial, Brown’s daughter and stepdaughter, named Karen and Monique, respectively, both testified that Brown had sexually abused them. Doctor Maureen Ryall testified that upon her examination of Karen’s vagina, it was found out that the child’s hymen was scarred and stretched, and that the rectal exam of Karen revealed that there has been some sort of pressure or fixture against the area on numerous occasions; according to the doctor, these findings were consistent with sexual abuse. Sandra Furlong, Brown’s ex-wife also testified that the children were scared to see Brown. Upon taking the stand, Brown denied all the aforementioned charges. After deliberation a jury convicted defendant on the first three counts of the indictment. The trial justice denied defendant's motion for a new trial and sentenced defendant to serve thirty years at the Adult Correctional Institutions. Brown appealed, arguing that the trial judge erred: (i) in allowing Dr. Ryall to testify about Karen’s rectal that went beyond the bill of particulars; (ii) in denying Brown’s motion for judgment of acquittal regarding Monique; and (iii) in refusing to allow Brown to present rebuttal testimony.
Did the trial judge err: (i) in allowing Dr. Ryall to testify about Karen’s rectal that went beyond the bill of particulars; (ii) in denying Brown’s motion for judgment of acquittal regarding Monique; and (iii) in refusing to allow Brown to present rebuttal testimony.
The state supreme court held that the trial justice should have either excluded evidence presented by Dr. Ryall or admitted the evidence with a limiting instruction. However, in light of the independent evidence suggesting vaginal penetration, the court ruled that the trial justice's decision to admit the doctor's testimony about Karen’s rectal examination without a limiting instruction was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. The court further held that there was sufficient evidence to support the verdict that Brown used force or coercion when engaging in sexual contact with Monique. According to the court, Brown used his position of authority in the household, which was an implied threat. The trial justice noted that the testimony that Brown sought to provide in rebuttal had already been testified to on direct examination - according to the state supreme court, this was a valid reason for disallowing the rebuttal testimony.