Pursuant to Washington ER 404(b), evidence of other crimes, wrongs, or acts may not be admitted to prove the defendant’s character to show that he acted in conformity with his character. Evidence of prior acts can be admissible for certain other reasons, including motive, opportunity, and intent. Washington courts have also allowed such evidence to be admitted under a “res gestae” or “same transaction” exception, allowing the evidence “if it is so connected in time, place circumstances, or means employed that proof of such other misconduct is necessary for a complete description of the crime charged, or constitutes proof of the history of the crime charged.” State v. Schaffer. The purpose is to allow the jury to see a complete picture.
A court can only admit evidence under an exception to ER 404(b) if it first finds by a preponderance of the evidence that the misconduct occurred, determines that the evidence is relevant to a material issue, puts the purpose for the admission of the evidence into the record, and balances the evidence’s probative value against the risk of unfair prejudice. The court must conduct the analysis on the record.
A Washington appeals court recently reviewed a case in which the trial court admitted some evidence of prior incidents. The defendant was charged with residential burglary, fourth-degree assault, and interfering with domestic violence reporting, based on allegations that he had entered his wife’s residence, assaulted her, and prevented her from calling the police. He was convicted of fourth-degree assault and residential burglary. He appealed, arguing that the trial court abused its discretion by admitting evidence about prior incidents.