Evidence of a prior conviction may be relevant under O.C.G.A. § 24-4-404 subsection (b)

State v. Jones, S14G1061

Supreme Court of Georgia, Criminal Case (6/1/2015, 6/3/2015)

Evidence of a prior conviction may be relevant under O.C.G.A. § 24-4-404 subsection (b), without regard to whether the charged crime is one requiring a specific or general intent, when it is offered for the permissible purpose of showing a criminal defendant’s intent and knowledge.

The Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals’ decision in Jones v. State, 326 Ga. App. 658 (2014), and remanded the case to the Court of Appeals with direction, holding that evidence of Michael Jones’ prior conviction for DUI-less safe was admissible in his subsequent DUI trial pursuant to O.C.G.A. § 24-4-404 (b), “Rule 404 (b),” of the new Georgia Evidence Code. In order to be admissible, the State must make a showing that: (1) evidence of extrinsic, or other, acts is relevant to an issue other than the defendant’s character, (2) the probative value of the other acts evidence is not substantially outweighed by its unfair prejudice and (3) there is sufficient proof so that the jury could find that the defendant committed the act in question. The Court found no abuse of discretion with regard to the trial court’s consideration of the first prong and determination that evidence of Jones’ prior DUI conviction was relevant and admissible under Rule 404 (b). The record demonstrated that the other act evidence was admitted for the limited purposes of establishing Jones’ intent and knowledge in the charged crimes of DUI per se and DUI-less safe. The Court of Appeals had reversed based on the premise that, because the charged crimes did not require Jones to act with a specific intent to commit the crimes, the fact that he voluntarily or intentionally drove under the influence of alcohol on another occasion was of no relevance. However, the Court of Appeals’ holding failed to give any legal significance to the State’s burden of proving as an essential element Jones’ general intent to do the prohibited acts. Because the charged DUI crimes were general intent crimes, the State in its prosecution had the burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt Jones’ intent (1) to drive (2) with a blood alcohol content of 0.08 or higher and his intent (1) to drive (2) under the influence of alcohol (3) to the extent he was a less safe driver. Thus, intent was a material issue in the State’s prosecution and because the same state of mind was required for committing the prior act and the charged crimes, i.e., the general intent to drive while under the influence of alcohol, evidence of Jones’ prior conviction was relevant under Rule 404 (b) to show Jones’ intent on this occasion.

Further, the relevancy of the prior conviction evidence was heightened by Jones’ defense in which he vehemently challenged the State’s allegation that he was under the influence of alcohol and argued that his physical reactions and poor performance on field tests were attributable to the fact that he had previously suffered serious head trauma. This defense raised a genuine issue regarding whether Jones was voluntarily driving while under the influence of alcohol, making evidence that he had voluntarily driven under the influence of alcohol on a previous occasion all the more relevant because it tended to show that it was more likely that he intentionally did so on this occasion. Accordingly, the Court held that other acts evidence may be relevant under Rule 404 (b), without regard to whether the charged crime is one requiring a specific or general intent, when it is offered for the permissible purpose of showing a criminal defendant’s intent and knowledge. Such evidence is relevant if the State articulates a clear hypothesis showing that the evidence offered has any tendency to prove or disprove the existence of any consequential fact independent of the use forbidden by Rule 404 (b). However, under the second prong of the test for admissibility, even evidence determined to be admissible under Rule 404 (b) may be deemed inadmissible on the basis of those considerations set out in Rule 403�prejudice, confusion or waste of time. Because the Court of Appeals did not address this prong after finding that evidence of Jones’ prior conviction was not relevant, the Court remanded the case to the Court of Appeals for its consideration of whether the trial court erred in its evaluation of the admissibility of this evidence under Rule 403.

 

As published by The Daily Report, 190 Pryor St. Atlanta, GA 30303 on 6/3/15.