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Prior Bad Acts Admissible to Show Motive and Intent

Generally, prior bad acts of an accused on trial are not admissible to prove conforming conduct in a criminal trial in Tennessee. However, there are often-used exceptions to the rule excluding prior bad acts. Among the exceptions, prior bad act evidence might be admissible if probative of the credibility of a testifying defendant, or if it shows a common scheme or plan linking the defendant to the crime at issue, or if it is probative of motive or intent. In the recent Tennessee case of State v. Bolton, W2013-00539-CCA-R3-CD (Tenn.Crim.App. 10-21-2014), the Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed a trial court ruling admitting evidence of the defendant's threats and abuse of the victim's mother when the defendant was on trial for rape of a child.

The Bolton case charged numerous acts of sexual abuse of a child victim by the defendant, who was dating the victim's mother. The state's case suggested that these acts often occurred when the mother left the residence following a fight or argument with the defendant, which included physical and verbal abuse and threats toward the mother. Though the defendant's bad acts toward the victim's mother would generally not be admissible to prove the defendant was a bad person who therefore was likely to commit crimes, the trial court reasoned that the conduct was admissible to support the state's theory that the defendant's actions toward the mother were intended drive her away so that he would have an opportunity to rape the victim, and/or that the abuse of the victim was additionally committed to punish the victim's mother following the arguments with the mother.

The Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the trial court's reasoning and ruling. They further noted that in the actual trial testimony, very little evidence of the threats and abuse toward the mother which was presented at a pre-trial hearing was presented to the jury at trial.

For more information regarding the use of prior bad acts evidence at trial, contact Hindman & Associates.

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