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In a criminal trial, Federal Rule of Evidence 404(b) (FRE 404(b)) prohibits the prosecution from using a defendant’s other crimes, wrongs, or bad acts to prove the defendant’s propensity to commit the charged offense. Courts, in their discretion, may admit other bad acts to prove something other than propensity, such as knowledge, intent, or absence of mistake. In United States v. Lee, the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit considered whether it was an abuse of discretion and reversible error to admit a prior drug possession conviction against a defendant in a trial for drug distribution. The Seventh Circuit held that the federal district court abused its discretion by admitting a prior possession conviction because it was probative “only in the sense that it established his propensity” to commit a similar crime.
The Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution provides criminal defendants with one of the country’s most basic criminal law principles–the right to confront one’s accusers–by prohibiting prosecutors from using a witness’s adverse testimony against the accused without prior opportunity for cross-examination. Determining what types of witness statements require the opportunity for confrontation has undergone dramatic change in recent years. In United States v. James, the Second Circuit considered these changes and held that the Confrontation Clause is not violated when autopsy and toxicology reports are admitted against a defendant, and medical examiners are allowed to testify about them despite not authoring the reports themselves.