Old Chief v. United States 519 U.S. 172, 117 S.Ct. 644, 136 L.Ed.2d 574 (1997)
A guy named Old Chief was involved in a 'fracas' where
some shots were fired. He was arrested and charged with assault and
possession of a firearm.
Under US law, it is illegal for anyone who has been
convicted of a crime punishable by more than one year in jail to possess
Old Chief had previously been convicted of assault with a
At trial, Old Chief asked the Court to refrain from
mentioning the assault conviction.
Old Chief offered to admit that he was convicted of an
unspecified crime, which would be enough to establish that his possession
of the firearm was illegal.
Old Chief argued that telling the jury he had previously
been convicted of assault (essentially the same crime as he was charged
with here) would be too prejudicial, and therefore inadmissible under FRE
The prosecution argued that they should be allowed to
prove their case however they wanted to, and since the prior conviction
was relevant, they should be allowed to introduce the evidence.
The Trial Judge allowed the evidence of Old Chief's
conviction to be admitted.
The Trial Judge found that the prosecution was under no
obligation to accept Old Chief offer of a stipulation.
The Trial Court found Old Chief guilty of assault. He
The Appellate Court affirmed. Old Chief appealed.
The Appellate Court found that the prosecution is
entitled to prove a prior felony offense through introduction of
The US Supreme Court reversed and said that the evidence
was not admissible.
The US Supreme Court found that under FRE 403,
evidence is inadmissible if its probative value is substantially
outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice.
See also, FRE 404(b), which says that evidence of
other crimes is not admissible to prove the character of the person in
order to show actions in conformity with.
The Court found that specifically mentioning the crime
Old Chief had been convicted of had very little probative value, since
all that needed to be established was that he was convicted of a crime.
On the other hand, mentioning that he had been convicted of the same
crime he was now being charged with had substantial prejudicial effect,
since the jury would likely use the evidence for purposes excluded by FRE
Evidence shouldn't simply be weighed on its probative
vs. prejudicial value, but should also take into consideration the
presence or absence of alternative evidence probative to the same issue.
The Court noted that the result in this case isn't
necessarily conclusive for all cases. In this case there was no
cognizable difference between the evidentiary significance of an
admission and the evidence the prosecution wanted to introduce. But that
might not always be the case.
If the prosecution could show that there would be more
'evidentiary depth' to introducing evidence, as opposed to just
accepting an admission, then the evidence might be admissible.
The Court noted, that one party may not generally
stipulate another out of its proof, i.e., the offering party’s need for
evidentiary richness and narrative integrity because: