485 U.S. 681 (1988), 87-6, Huddleston v. United States

Docket Nº:No. 87-6. Argued March 23, 1988
Citation:485 U.S. 681, 108 S.Ct. 1496, 99 L.Ed.2d 771, 56 U.S.L.W. 4363
Party Name:Huddleston v. United States
Case Date:May 02, 1988
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 681

485 U.S. 681 (1988)

108 S.Ct. 1496, 99 L.Ed.2d 771, 56 U.S.L.W. 4363

Huddleston

v.

United States

No. 87-6. Argued March 23, 1988

United States Supreme Court

May 2, 1988

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR

THE SIXTH CIRCUIT

Syllabus

Federal Rule of Evidence 404(b) provides that evidence of "other crimes, wrongs, or acts" is not admissible to prove a person's character, but may be admissible for other purposes, such as proof of knowledge. Petitioner was charged under federal law with the knowing possession and [108 S.Ct. 1497] sale of stolen videocassette tapes. At his trial, the District Court allowed the Government to introduce as evidence of "similar acts" under Rule 404(b) evidence of petitioner's involvement in a series of sales of allegedly stolen televisions and appliances from the same suspicious source as the tapes, concluding that such evidence had clear relevance as to petitioner's knowledge that the tapes were stolen. The jury convicted petitioner on the possession count only, and the Court of Appeals ultimately affirmed, declaring that it could not say that the District Court had abused its discretion in admitting the "similar acts" evidence under United States v. Ebens, 800 F.2d 1422 (CA6), which authorized courts to admit such evidence if the proof showed by a preponderance of the evidence that the defendant did in fact commit the prior bad act.

Held: The district court need not itself make a preliminary finding that the Government has proved the "other act" by a preponderance of the evidence before it submits "similar acts" and other Rule 404(b) evidence to the jury. The requirement of such a preliminary finding would be inconsistent with the structure of Article IV of the Rules, which allows the admission of relevant evidence for a proper purpose subject only to general strictures, with Rule 404(b)'s plain language, and with the legislative history behind that Rule. Rather, "similar" acts evidence should be admitted if there is sufficient evidence to support a finding by the jury that the defendant committed the similar act. Here, petitioner does not dispute that the evidence of the appliance sales was properly admitted. Moreover, the trial court properly allowed the evidence of the television sales to go to the jury, since the jury reasonably could have concluded that the televisions were stolen in light of the low price sought by petitioner, the large quantity of televisions he offered for sale, his inability to produce a bill of sale, and his involvement in the sales of the stolen tapes and appliances. Pp. 685-692.

811 F.2d 974, affirmed.

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REHNQUIST, J., lead opinion

CHIEF JUSTICE REHNQUIST delivered the opinion of the Court.

Federal Rule of Evidence 404(b) provides:

Other crimes, wrongs, or acts. -- Evidence of other crimes, wrongs, or acts is not admissible to prove the character of a person in order to show action in conformity therewith. It may, however, be admissible for other purposes, such as proof of motive, opportunity, intent, preparation, plan, knowledge, identity, or absence of mistake or accident.

This case presents the question whether the district court must itself make a preliminary finding that the Government has proved the "other act" by a preponderance of the evidence before it submits the evidence to the jury. We hold that it need not do so.

Petitioner, Guy Rufus Huddleston, was charged with one count of selling stolen goods in interstate commerce, 18 U.S.C. § 2315, and one count of possessing stolen property in interstate commerce, 18 U.S.C. § 659. The two counts related to two portions of a shipment of stolen Memorex videocassette tapes that petitioner was alleged to have possessed and sold, knowing that they were stolen.

The evidence at trial showed that a trailer containing over 32,000 blank Memorex videocassette tapes with a manufacturing cost of $4.53 per tape was stolen from the Overnight Express yard in South Holland, Illinois, sometime between April 11 and 15, 1985. On April 17, 1985, petitioner contacted Karen Curry, the manager of the Magic Rent-to-Own

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in Ypsilanti, Michigan, [108 S.Ct. 1498] seeking her assistance in selling a large number of blank Memorex videocassette tapes. After assuring Curry that the tapes were not stolen, he told her he wished to sell them in lots of at least 500 at $2.75 to $3 per tape. Curry subsequently arranged for the sale of a total of 5,000 tapes, which petitioner delivered to the various purchasers -- who apparently believed the sales were legitimate.

There was no dispute that the tapes which petitioner sold were stolen; the only material issue at trial was whether petitioner knew they were stolen. The District Court allowed the Government to introduce evidence of "similar acts" under Rule 404(b), concluding that such evidence had "clear relevance as to [petitioner's knowledge]." App. 11. The first piece of similar act evidence offered by the Government was the testimony of Paul Toney, a record store owner. He testified that. in February. 1985, petitioner offered to sell new 12" black and white televisions for $28 apiece. According to Toney, petitioner indicated that he could obtain several thousand of these televisions. Petitioner and Toney eventually traveled to the Magic Rent-to-Own, where Toney purchased 20 of the televisions. Several days later, Toney purchased 18 more televisions.

The second piece of similar act evidence was the testimony of Robert Nelson, an undercover FBI agent posing as a buyer for an appliance store. Nelson testified that, in May, 1985, petitioner offered to sell him a large quantity of Amana appliances -- 28 refrigerators, 2 ranges, and 40 icemakers. Nelson agreed to pay $8,000 for the appliances. Petitioner was arrested shortly after he arrived at the parking lot where he and Nelson had agreed to transfer the appliances. A truck containing the appliances was stopped a short distance from the parking lot, and Leroy Wesby, who was driving the truck, was also arrested. It was determined that the appliances had a value of approximately $20,000 and were part of a shipment that had been stolen.

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Petitioner testified that the Memorex tapes, the televisions, and the appliances had all...

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