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A Better Partnership
July 30, 2015

MSC: There is no res gestae exception to MRE 404(b)

In People v. Jackson, No. 149798, the Michigan Supreme Court held that there is no res gestae exception for Michigan Rule of Evidence (“MRE”) 404(b).  Accordingly, the trial court improperly admitted testimony from the victim’s aunt who testified at trial that defendant had engaged in prior sexual conduct with underage parishioners. However, because the Supreme Court held that the improper introduction of the evidence was not outcome determinative, defendant was not entitled to a new trial.

The defendant was convicted of six counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct for sexually abusing a young member of the church where he served as pastor. The trial court allowed testimony from complainant’s aunt, ruling that admissibility of the testimony was not governed by MRE 404(b) because the testimony was not evidence that defendant had engaged in prior sexual conduct with underage parishioners. The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that although the testimony was evidence of other acts under MRE 404(b), it fell within an exception to that rule for res gestae evidence and thus could be admitted without reference to or compliance with the rule. The defendant sought leave to appeal.

The Michigan Supreme Court vacated the Court of Appeal’s opinion in part, but affirmed convictions, reasoning that: (i) the plain langue of MRE 404(b) sets forth no res gestae exception; (ii) because the aunt’s testimony was evidence of other conduct that gave rise to a character-to-conduct inference it is governed under MRE 404(b); and (iii) the defendant was not entitled to relief based on the erroneous handling of the challenged testimony because defendant had not shown outcome-determinative prejudice from that error.

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