People v. Lawrence P. Frumusa
Issue before the Court: Whether evidence of a contempt order issued in a civil action involving the same funds the defendant was criminal charged with stealing was subject to Molineux’s exclusionary rule?
Held: No. To be subject to Molineux’s exclusionary rule, the evidence sought to be admitted must concern “a separate crime or bad act committed by the defendant.” When the evidence is relevant to the very same crime for which the defendant is on trial, it does not raise the danger that the jury will draw an improper inference of propensity, the reason behind the Molineux rule in the first place. As the evidence was otherwise relevant to establishing the defendant’s larcenous intent, the evidence was admissible. Further, the probative value outweighed the prejudice from its admission, although a limiting instruction (not request by the defendant) would have been in order to minimize any potential prejudice.
CAL Observes: This unanimous opinion addresses a question that does not arise very often. The prosecution itself had sought admission of this evidence as an exception to the Molineux rule, and the lower court decided it on that basis. However, the Court held that such misclassification did not prevent it from concluding that the evidence was not Molineux, because the arguments concerning the probative value and the prejudicial effect would be the same.