State v. Houghton
|19 December 1978
|272 N.W.2d 788
|STATE of South Dakota, Plaintiff and Appellant, v. Steven Ellis HOUGHTON, Defendant and Respondent.
|South Dakota Supreme Court
Charles L. Dorothy, Asst. Minnehaha County State's Atty., Sioux Falls, for plaintiff and appellant.
Laird Rasmussen of Dana, Golden, Moore & Rasmussen, Sioux Falls, for defendant and respondent.
This case involves an appeal 1 from an intermediate order of the trial court ruling that collateral evidence of other alleged rapes would not be admissible in the present rape prosecution. We affirm.
On June 17, 1977, defendant Houghton was charged by indictment with the rape 2 of one B. S. On January 4, 1978, the trial court held a hearing on the state's motion for a pre-trial ruling as to the admissibility of evidence of prior rapes in order to show identity as well as intent, scheme, plan, and modus operandi. During this hearing, the trial court relied upon the testimony given at a December 8, 1977 pre-trial hearing in connection with another rape charge also handed down by indictment on June 17, 1977, in which defendant allegedly raped one C. M. The December 8, 1977 hearing involved the same motion for an evidentiary ruling as requested above in the present case; the state sought a ruling permitting the introduction at the C. M. rape trial of evidence involving the alleged B. S. rape and an additional alleged but uncharged rape of one L. F. At that time, the trial court heard from the alleged victim L. F. and her mother, alleged victims C. M. and B. S., and the police officer who arrested defendant. After hearing the testimony, the trial judge found that the evidence of other alleged rapes was relevant but entirely too prejudicial and therefore not admissible. More specifically, the trial judge found as follows:
The state requested "a ruling whether or not the other rapes would be admissible in the (B.S.) rape case when it comes to trial." The trial judge deferred such ruling.
On December 12-14, 1977, the issue of defendant's alleged rape of C. M. was tried before a jury. The jury acquitted defendant of the charged and alleged rape of C. M.
The January 4, 1978 hearing on the admissibility of evidence of other alleged rapes in the present action resulted in a ruling similar to that of December 8, 1977. The trial judge incorporated his previous ruling and adopted the findings quoted above. The state asked for a ruling as to the probative value of the testimony of the other alleged rape victims regarding the identity of the assailant. The trial judge declined to so rule because he found that identity was not in issue.
On January 20, 1978, the state filed its petition for allowance of appeal and notice of appeal from an intermediate order. We granted the appeal on February 7, 1978, and the record was settled and certified on February 22, 1978.
The state contends that the trial court erred in excluding the testimony of the other two alleged rape victims after finding that all three women were purportedly raped in a fashion so similar as to be "the signature" of the defendant and that the evidence was relevant to prove scheme, plan, intent, and modus operandi. Accordingly, the sole issue on appeal is whether the trial court abused its discretion in ruling that evidence of other alleged rapes by defendant would not be admissible in the present action.
It has long been established in this state that proof that a defendant has committed other crimes and offenses is incompetent and inadmissible for the purpose of showing the commission of the crime charged; however, when evidence of prior conduct of a defendant establishes a material fact which is at issue, such conduct may be admissible notwithstanding the fact that the prior conduct is criminal and constitutes an offense independent of the crime charged. 3 Such material facts include identity, knowledge, intent or malice, motive, acts which are part of a plan or system of criminal action and acts constituting continuous offenses. 4 This common law rule has been substantially embodied in the South Dakota Rules of Evidence, 5 Rule 404(b) as follows:
The principal reason for this general rule of exclusion is the prejudice against the accused that evidence of other crimes instills in the jury and not because of an inherent lack of probative value. 6 This reason is more fully discussed as follows:
While the rule excludes other crimes evidence showing bad character and propensity to commit crime in conformity therewith, it enumerates certain exceptions where such evidence may be admitted to establish an element of the crime charged and prove a material fact which is at issue. Even if the court finds that the other crimes evidence has probative value as an exception to the rule of exclusion, admission of such evidence is not automatic because the rule states that such evidence May be admissible. 8 The standard that the trial court must use in determining the admissibility of such evidence is set out in South Dakota Rules of Evidence, Rule 403:
"Although relevant, evidence may be excluded if its probative value is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice, confusion of the issues, or misleading the jury, or by considerations of undue delay, waste of time, or needless presentation of cumulative evidence."
The question of balancing the probative value against the risk of unfair prejudice and the other Rule 403 considerations is one for the trial judge to resolve in the sound exercise of discretion. 9 With regard to our review of the exercise of that discretion, we must determine whether there has been an abuse of discretion. 10
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State v. Moeller
...automatically precludes admission. The comparison of victims is not dispositive, by itself, of the admissibility issue. State v. Houghton, 272 N.W.2d 788 (S.D.1978), reinforces the rule of law that the modus operandi issue is determined based on all factors, rather than pointing to one fact......
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...will not be disturbed absent an abuse of discretion. Klein, 444 N.W.2d at 18-19; Chapin, 460 N.W.2d at 421 (citing State v. Houghton, 272 N.W.2d 788 (S.D.1978)). However, and most importantly to the present case, we have stated that the balancing process undertaken by the trial court "must ......
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