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UNITED STATES v. FRANK

May 22, 1998

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
DERIC FRANK, Defendant.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: COTE

OPINION

 DENISE COTE, District Judge:

 By letter to the Court dated April 6, 1998, the Government provided formal notice to the defendant, Deric Frank, and to the Court, of the Government's intention to offer evidence pursuant to Federal Rule of Evidence 404(b) ("Rule 404(b)") against Frank at the guilt phase of this capital trial. The process of selecting a jury is scheduled to begin on June 4, 1998.

 The Court has reviewed the Government's April 6 letter, as well as the following letter submissions on this topic: Frank's April 21 response; the Government's April 27 reply; and, finally, Frank's April 28 sur-reply. For the reasons set forth below, the Court finds that certain evidence offered by the Government with respect to both Frank's drug dealings and his prior abuse of the victim, Shaneika Price, as a general matter, is admissible at the guilt stage of this prosecution. *fn1"

 I. BACKGROUND

 To provide a context for its analysis of the evidence currently at issue, the Court sets forth the following brief facts about this case. Frank is alleged to have been a drug dealer in Norwalk, Connecticut. In this case, he is accused of having kidnapped his former girlfriend, Price, transported her across state lines, and killed her by setting fire to her car after locking her in the trunk. The Government's theory of the crime is two-fold: first, the Government argues that Frank killed Price because he feared that she was cooperating with police and was about to tell them where he kept his "stash" of drugs; and second, the Government maintains that Price's murder represented the final event in a long history of domestic violence. Consequently, the evidence that the Government intends to offer under Rule 404(b) runs to both aspects of this theory. The Government seeks to offer evidence of Frank's drug activities -- and Price's knowledge of those activities -- in order to establish Frank's motive for killing her. Similarly, the Government seeks to introduce evidence of prior abuse as probative of Frank's "motive" and intent to kill Price.

 Frank contends that all of the proffered evidence is inadmissible, on the ground that it will unfairly prejudice the jury against the defendant and that it will lead to jury confusion. In addition, Frank has requested a pre-trial hearing on the sufficiency of the Government's evidence to support its theory of the case regarding Frank's drug activities. Finally, Frank argues that intent evidence is inadmissible since Frank's defense throughout this litigation has been that "he did not commit the criminal acts at all," and intent, therefore, "is not an issue" in this case.

 II. DISCUSSION

 The standards for evaluating the admissibility of evidence under Rule 404(b) and Rule 403 are well established. *fn2" Evidence that is relevant to some issue or issues at trial other than the defendant's character is admissible if the evidence's probative value is not substantially outweighed by the risk of unfair prejudice. Huddleston v. United States, 485 U.S. 681, 689-90, 99 L. Ed. 2d 771, 108 S. Ct. 1496 (1988); United States v. Figueroa, 618 F.2d 934, 939 (2d Cir. 1980). For example, Rule 404(b) expressly provides that evidence of "bad acts" that help establish the defendant's motive are admissible. Similarly, courts have routinely held that evidence which completes the story of the crimes charged, demonstrates the background of a charged conspiracy, or explains the nature of a relationship, is admissible. See, e.g., United States v. Pipola, 83 F.3d 556, 566 (2d Cir.), cert. denied, 136 L. Ed. 2d 122, 117 S. Ct. 183 (1996); United States v. Araujo, 79 F.3d 7, 8 (2d Cir.), cert. denied, 117 S. Ct. 225 (1996); United States v. Brennan, 798 F.2d 581, 589-90 (2d Cir. 1986). Evidence of uncharged criminal activity is not even Rule 404(b) evidence if it

 
arose out of the same transaction or series of transactions as the charged offense, if it is inextricably intertwined with the evidence regarding the charged offense, or if it is necessary to complete the story of the crime on trial.

 United States v. Gonzalez, 110 F.3d 936, 942 (2d Cir. 1997) (internal quotation omitted). Only when the past act evidence is offered to prove the defendant's knowledge or intent is there any requirement that the past act and charged conduct actually be similar. Araujo, 79 F.3d at 8.

 The Second Circuit has adopted an inclusionary approach to Rule 404(b). Indeed, in this Circuit, "evidence of prior crimes, wrongs, or acts is admissible for any purpose other than to show a defendant's criminal propensity," United States v. Lasanta, 978 F.2d 1300, 1307 (2d Cir. 1992) (emphasis in original) (citations omitted), provided that the probative value of the evidence is not "substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice." Pipola, 83 F.3d at 566. The district court is vested with broad discretion to determine whether to admit evidence offered under Rule 404(b). Id.

 A. Evidence of Frank's Narcotics Dealings Is Admissible.

 Here, the Government offers evidence of both Frank's narcotics dealings and his prior abuse of Price as "motive" evidence. *fn3" The Court addresses first the evidence of Frank's narcotics operation. This evidence, which is not "similar act" evidence, demonstrates that Frank had a reason to want Price dead. Such evidence is properly admitted because it helps the jury decide -- on the basis of motive rather than character -- whether the defendant is likely to have been the one responsible for the crime. See United States v. Willoughby, 860 F.2d 15, 24 (2d Cir. 1988) (evidence of defendant's participation in an uncharged robbery admissible to prove defendant's motive to commit the charged crime, obstruction of justice with respect to the robbery); United States v. Pedroza, 750 F.2d 187, 200-01 (2d Cir. 1984) (evidence of defendant's participation in uncharged cocaine ...


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