Fed. R. Evid. 404(b) forbids admission of evidence of other crimes to prove the character of a person in order to show action in conformity therewith, but it specifically permits the admission of such evidence for other purposes, such as proof of opportunity. To show opportunity is to show that the defendant had some special capacity, ability or knowledge that would enable him to commit the crime.
Rafael Dominguez and Daniel Maravilla, both United States Customs Officer, kidnapped Yamil Mitri Lajam, a Dominican money courier. It was established that the crime was perpetrated on September 10, 1982 as Lajam was entering the United States. The aforementioned officers murdered Lajam and stole about $ 700,000 that the Lajam intended to deposit in a Puerto Rican bank that afternoon. The federal government did not charge them with murder; rather, the government indicted them for, and the jury convicted them of: (1) depriving an "inhabitant of any State, Territory, or District" of a civil right, 18 U.S.C. § 242, (2) engaging in "robbery" and committing acts of "physical violence" affecting interstate commerce, 18 U.S.C. § 1951(a), (3) transporting stolen money interstate, 18 U.S.C. § 2314, and (4) receiving or concealing stolen money that has moved interstate, 18 U.S.C. § 2315. In addition, the jury convicted each officer of two separate charges involving lying and obstruction of justice. Dominguez and Maravilla both appealed, arguing that the district court made several evidence-related errors. They also claim that, regardless, the government could not convict them of violating the civil rights statute because the victim, a citizen of the Dominican Republic, was not an "inhabitant of any State, Territory or District" of the United States.
Was the conviction of Dominguez and Maravilla for the crimes of (i) robbery and (ii) violation of 18 U.S.C. § 242 properly held?
Yes, for robbery. No, for violation of 18 U.S.C. § 242.
The appellate court affirmed the robbery-related convictions because a reasonable juror could find Dominguez and Maravilla guilty beyond a reasonable doubt because they had a special opportunity to commit the crime, special knowledge, sudden appearance of money, and false stories of a Dominguez's gun. However, the appellate court reversed the conviction under 18 U.S.C. § 242 because the victim was a foreign citizen who intended to stay in the United States only a few hours, and was not an inhabitant of the United States for purposes of the statute.