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U.S. Supreme Court

Huddleston v. United States, 485 U.S. 681 (1988)

Huddleston v. United States

No. 87-6. Argued March 23, 1988

Decided May 2, 1988

485 U.S. 681


Federal Rule of Evidence 404(b) provides that evidence of "other crimes, wrongs, or acts" is not admissible to prove a person's character, but may be admissible for other purposes, such as proof of knowledge. Petitioner was charged under federal law with the knowing possession and sale of stolen videocassette tapes. At his trial, the District Court allowed the Government to introduce as evidence of "similar acts" under Rule 404(b) evidence of petitioner's involvement in a series of sales of allegedly stolen televisions and appliances from the same suspicious source as the tapes, concluding that such evidence had clear relevance as to petitioner's knowledge that the tapes were stolen. The jury convicted petitioner on the possession count only, and the Court of Appeals ultimately affirmed, declaring that it could not say that the District Court had abused its discretion in admitting the "similar acts" evidence under United States v. Ebens, 800 F.2d 1422 (CA6), which authorized courts to admit such evidence if the proof showed by a preponderance of the evidence that the defendant did in fact commit the prior bad act.

Held: The district court need not itself make a preliminary finding that the Government has proved the "other act" by a preponderance of the evidence before it submits "similar acts" and other Rule 404(b) evidence to the jury. The requirement of such a preliminary finding would be inconsistent with the structure of Article IV of the Rules, which allows the admission of relevant evidence for a proper purpose subject only to general strictures, with Rule 404(b)'s plain language, and with the legislative history behind that Rule. Rather, "similar" acts evidence should be admitted if there is sufficient evidence to support a finding by the jury that the defendant committed the similar act. Here, petitioner does not dispute that the evidence of the appliance sales was properly admitted. Moreover, the trial court properly allowed the evidence of the television sales to go to the jury, since the jury reasonably could have concluded that the televisions were stolen in light of the low price sought by petitioner, the large quantity of televisions he offered for sale, his inability to produce a bill of sale, and his involvement in the sales of the stolen tapes and appliances. Pp. 485 U. S. 685-692.

811 F.2d 974, affirmed. chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

Page 485 U. S. 682

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