Rule 404 and Evidence of Prior Incarceration

In a recent decision, the Court of Appeals granted a new trial on the ground that improper and prejudicial character evidence regarding a prior incarceration of the defendant was admitted at trial. The case presents a reminder about the distinction between North Carolina Rules of Evidence 404(a) and 404(b) and sheds light on the admissibility of evidence of a defendant’s incarceration.

Facts. In State v. Rios, ___ N.C. App. ___ (Dec. 20, 2016), law enforcement obtained a warrant to search the residence of the defendant, where he lived with the homeowner and another roommate. The search revealed nearly sixty pounds of marijuana and a host of other evidence of drug distribution activity. The police found about seven pounds of marijuana in the defendant’s bedroom, most of which was in a large box. Fifty more pounds were found in the garage. A latent fingerprint found on drug-packaging material in the homeowner’s room was matched to the defendant.

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Character Evidence Made Simple

I field a lot of calls from prosecutors, defenders, and judges about evidence issues. Character evidence is one area that accounts for a lot of those calls. And no wonder. The rules are complicated and almost impossible to keep straight. The basic rule is that character evidence can’t be admitted to show propensity. Thus, evidence … Read more

Street Names and Nicknames

Suppose that a murder defendant goes by the street name “Hit Man.” The prosecution wants the investigating officer to testify that she received a tip that “Hit Man” committed the crime, and that she knew that the defendant used the nickname “Hit Man.” Defense counsel moves to prohibit all references to the nickname during the … Read more