An undercover police officer named Moore wrote down the
serial numbers of some money and used them to buy some cocaine. After
making the purchase, she called for backup who arrested Copelin a few
minutes later. He was in possession of the pre-recorded money.
The police also found a bottle of cocaine lying on the
ground next to Copelin.
Copelin was arrested and charged with selling drugs.
Copelin argued that he was gambling with a guy named
Bailey at the time, and it was Bailey who sold the drugs, but then
immediately lost the money to Copelin.
At trial, Copelin testified that he had never even seen
cocaine, except on television. In response, the prosecution introduced
evidence to show that Copelin had tested positive for using cocaine three
times while he was awaiting trial.
"The defendant tested positive for cocaine on three
separate occasions and I believe that provides a reasonable basis to
assume that he has seen cocaine."
Copelin objected on the grounds that the evidence was inadmissible.
The Trial Judge allowed the prosecutor to talk about the
positive drug tests while cross-examining Copelin.
Copelin testified denied using cocaine and claimed that
he had no idea why the tests were positive.
Copelin did not request a limiting instruction at this
The Trial Court found Copelin guilty of selling drugs. He
The Appellate Court partially reversed and remanded for a
The Appellate Court found that under FRE 404(b),
evidence of prior bad acts is not admissible to show a defendant's
propensity to commit the crime at issue, but it is admissible for other
See FRE 404(b).
The Appellate Court found that, although not explicitly
stated in FRE 404(b), an attempt to impeach through contradiction
a defendant acting as a witness is indisputably a legitimate reason to
introduce evidence of other crimes or wrongs.
Unless of course the probative value is substantially
outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice, as per FRE 403.
Copelin also argued that whether he had actually seen
cocaine or not was a collateral issue to the crime he was accused of, and
there is a prohibition against impeaching witnesses on collateral
issues. However, the Court found that that rule only applies to extrinsic
evidence, not contradictory statements made by the witness himself.
Extrinsic evidence is testimony by other
witnesses or physical evidence.
The Appellate Court did agree with Copelin that the Trial
Judge should have issued a limiting instruction at trial, even though
Copelin didn't request one. Therefore the case needed to be remanded for
a new trial.
This concept was later overruled in Unites States v.
Rhodes (62 F.3d 1449 (1995) which found that FRE 105 says
that limiting instruction should only be granted upon request because
there are tactical reasons that a defendant might not want one.