Friday, April 27, 2018

Admission of Prior Domestic Violence as Res Gestae Evidence Is Harmless

     In United States v. Brown, the Sixth Circuit considered the district court's admission of 9-1-1 calls in a firearm possession case in which the caller referenced prior domestic violence perpetrated by the defendant. The district court admitted the evidence at trial and reasoned that the evidence was "inextricable intertwined" with the offense conduct. The defendant had been charged under 922(g) with possessing a firearm after he was alleged to have shot a windows in a home where his girlfriend was staying with an aunt. The tape included statements by the girlfriend that the defendant was dangerous. The district court refused to redact portions of the 9-1-1 calls and would only allow them to be played in their entirety.
     The Sixth Circuit has historically permitted background evidence when there is a close connection between the charged offense and the proffered background evidence.In Mr. Brown's case, the Sixth Circuit concluded the district court actually did abuse its discretion in not allowing for a redaction of the tapes. The district court incorrectly "relied on the temporal proximity of the calls themselves, not the temporal proximity of the domestic violence referred to." Because there was nothing "to support that these references are intrinsic to the story being told," they should have been excluded. Particularly noteworthy is the Sixth Circuit's statement that because Mr. Brown was charged with a gun possession crime, references to his violent past or history of domestic violence "was not necessary or integral" to telling the story of what occurred on the day in question.
    However, the Sixth Circuit ultimately held that the error was harmless because the Court was not convinced that the error affected Mr. Brown's substantial rights or contributed to his conviction.

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