State v. Houghton

Decision Date19 December 1978
Docket NumberNo. 12415,12415
Citation272 N.W.2d 788
PartiesSTATE of South Dakota, Plaintiff and Appellant, v. Steven Ellis HOUGHTON, Defendant and Respondent.
CourtSouth 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.

DUNN, Justice.

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:

"(I)t is the finding of this Court that one, the buying of drinks; two, demanding of sex with him; and three, the becoming violent and use of threats upon refusal are not unique, but are rather common and usual traits of a forcible rape. However, it is the finding of this Court that the following, one, the talking to the persons involved concerning his wealth and money; two, the asking of the women to see his unusual pet at his apartment; three, the derogatory language used during the act of intercourse; four, the holding and grasping of the women's wrists prior to the act of intercourse; five, the striking of the women who used the bathroom immediately upon leaving the bathroom; and six, the becoming apologetic after intercourse and allowing or assisting the women after intercourse to leave, are of sufficient character and uniqueness that stamp the incident to the same extent as one court stated, as a signature. I therefore find that it is relevant to show design, plan, scheme or modus operandi. However, the admission of such offenses, that is, the other offenses evidence, is essentially a matter directed to the sound discretion of the Court; that that discretion must be exercised within the context of the fundamental rule that the relevant evidence must be weighed in connection with its prejudicial effect. That is, if the probative value is outweighed by its prejudicial effect it should not be admitted. The purpose of the hearing that we had yesterday morning was to determine the admissibility of the prior and the subsequent alleged rapes. In the State's case in chief, in that connection, it makes the defendant in this case defend against not only the alleged uncharged rape prior to, but also the alleged charged rape subsequent to the one with which the defendant is charged. It is, therefore, the ruling of this Court that the prejudicial effect of the alleged uncharged prior rape and the alleged charged rape subsequent to (it) is prejudicial to the defendant and therefore, it is the ruling of this Court that the admissibility of the alleged uncharged rape prior to the incident with which the defendant is charged and the one subsequent thereto will not be admitted in the State's case in chief."

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:

"Evidence of other crimes, wrongs, or acts is not admissible to prove the character of a person in order to show that he acted 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."

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:

"The notion of prejudice encompasses two distinct tendencies of jurors. The first is the tendency to convict a man of the crime charged, not because he is guilty of that offense, but because evidence introduced indicates that he had committed another unpunished crime or that he is a 'bad man' who should be incarcerated regardless of his present guilt. A conviction for this reason would violate the principle that a man may be punished only for those acts with which he has been charged. The second is the tendency to infer that because the accused committed one crime, he committed the crime charged. In many instances this inference rests on no greater foundation than the belief that commission of one crime indicates a propensity to commit others. * * * Recognizing both these jury tendencies, American courts have generally excluded other crimes evidence which proves no more than 'criminal disposition' or 'criminal character,' reasoning that the possibility of inflaming jury sentiments outweighs the limited relevance of such evidence." 7

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

The state contends that the evidence of other alleged rapes should be deemed admissible in the present case because the trial judge found it to be relevant to prove identity, scheme, plan, intent, and modus operandi. A mere finding of relevancy does not automatically result in admissibility. 11 When viewing these exceptions to the general rule of exclusion, we must remember that they

"are not magic passwords whose mere incantation will open wide the courtroom doors to whatever evidence may be offered in their names. To the contrary, each exception has been carefully carved out of the general rule to serve a limited judicial...

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29 cases
  • State v. Moeller
    • United States
    • South Dakota Supreme Court
    • May 22, 1996
    ...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......
  • State v. Steele
    • United States
    • South Dakota Supreme Court
    • September 2, 1993
    ...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 ......
  • State v. Devine
    • United States
    • South Dakota Supreme Court
    • July 31, 1985
    ...Means, 363 N.W.2d 565 (S.D.1985); State v. Dace, 333 N.W.2d 812 (S.D.1983); State v. Johnson, 316 N.W.2d 652 (S.D.1982); State v. Houghton, 272 N.W.2d 788 (S.D.1978). We conclude that the evidence of the burglary was so strong in this case that the only real issue was Devine's mental condit......
  • State v. Dace
    • United States
    • South Dakota Supreme Court
    • April 27, 1983
    ...prejudice. State v. Brown, 285 N.W.2d 843 (S.D.1979). Our review is whether there has been an abuse of that discretion. State v. Houghton, 272 N.W.2d 788 (S.D.1978). We cannot conclude from the record that the trial court abused its Appellant particularly complains of the testimony concerni......
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