U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit
Evidence — other acts
Where the defendant’s defense to a heroin charge is that he did not possess it at all, it was error to admit evidence of a prior heroin conviction.
“We agree with Chapman’s first claim of error: The judge should not have admitted the details of Chapman’s heroin-trafficking conviction under Rule 404(b). As explained in our recent en banc opinion in United States v. Gomez, No. 12-1104, 2014 WL 4058963 (7th Cir. Aug. 18, 2014) (en banc), evidence of other bad acts is inadmissible to show character or propensity but may be admitted for another purpose provided that the evidence is relevant under a theory that does not rely on an inference about the actor’s propensity. See FED. R. EVID. 404(b)(1). Here, the judge allowed the government to use the specifics of Chapman’s prior heroin conviction to prove knowledge and intent, but the relevance of the evidence on those issues depends entirely on a forbidden propensity inference. Even if the evidence was relevant in a non-propensity way, its probative value was substantially outweighed by the risk of unfair prejudice given that Chapman’s defense was that he did not possess the bag at all. See FED. R. EVID. 403. The jury’s inconsistent verdict shows that the Rule 404(b) error was not harmless.”
Vacated and Remanded.
Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Kendall, J., Sykes, J.