981 F.2d 772 (5th Cir. 1993).

One-Sentence Takeaway: Character evidence is not excluded because it has no probative value, but because it sometimes may lead a jury to convict the accused on the ground of bad character deserving punishment regardless of guilt.

Summary:

Defendant was charged with distribution of heroine and cocaine. Undercover officer purchased heroine from man on the street and the officer later identified Defendant via computer record.

In his defense, Defendant argued mistaken identity and claimed that he was not present at the scene at the time of the sale to the undercover officer at issue.

To refute the defense, the District Court permitted prosecution to present evidence of two prior heroin sales by Defendant where Defendant had put drugs in a balloon and stood on the same street corner — similar to the sale at issue in the case.

The Court of Appeals reversed and held that the prosecution should not have been permitted to present evidence of two other sales of controlled substances by defendant as modus operandi to help establish his identity.

The Court reasoned that the evidence was not marked as Defendant’s handiwork.  Use of balloons in drug sales was a common practice by drug dealers.  Moreover, Defendant admitted that he lived in the area; although he denied being at the scene at the time of the particular sale at issue in the case.  There was nothing unusual about this sale that made it unique and different from other drug sales by other drug dealers in the area.

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