Home Law FRE 404 (What Is Rule 404 And Why It’s Crucial To Know)

FRE 404 (What Is Rule 404 And Why It’s Crucial To Know)

What is FRE 404?

How is the legal significance of this provision known as Rule 404?

What are the essential elements you should know!

Keep reading as we have gathered exactly the information that you need!

Let’s dig into our Federal Rules of Evidence!

Are you ready?

Let’s get started!

What Is FRE 404

FRE 404 (also known as Rule 404) refers to Section 404 of the Federal Rules of Evidence in regards to character evidence.

Rule 404 is titled “Character Evidence; Other Crimes, Wrongs, or Acts”.

In essence, this rule states that a person’s character should not be used as evidence to prove that the person acted on the basis of that character.

As a result, character evidence is not admissible as evidence to demonstrate the propensity of a particular behavior, conduct, or act (404 a).

There are some exceptions to this rule and we’ll cover that later in this article.

In addition to the evidence of a person’s character, FRE 404 addresses the prohibition to use evidence of other crimes, wrongdoings and acts to prove a person’s character with the objective to show that the person acted on the basis of that character.

Why Is It Important

The objective of FRE 404 is quite important.

The goal of Rule 404, especially in criminal cases, the chance to benefit from the presumption of innocence.

In essence, 404 FRE states that you cannot use a person’s wrongful acts or past crimes against him or her in the future.

If that were to be the case, a person would benefit from the presumption of innocence for the first accusation.

However, any subsequent criminal accusation would render the person would be assumed guilty.

Although the Federal Rules of Evidence character evidence closes the door to prior acts, the statute provides some exceptions (Rule 404(b)) that we’ll cover later in this article.

Character Evidence

FRE 404(a) clearly spells out that a person’s character or a person’s trait cannot be admitted as evidence as proof that he or she acted on the basis of that character or trait.

The Federal Rules of Evidence 404 states that “Evidence of a person’s character or character trait is not admissible to prove that on a particular occasion the person acted in accordance with the character or trait.”

However, Rule 404 provides some exceptions for defendants or victims of a criminal case:

  • The defendant of a criminal case may present evidence of his or her pertinent trait (if admitted, the prosecutor will be given the opportunity to rebut the evidence)
  • The defendant of a criminal case may present evidence of the alleged victim’s traits (the prosecutor will have the chance to rebut the evidence or present evidence of the defendant’s same trait)

In a homicide case, the prosecutor is given the right to present evidence about the victim’s peacefulness as a strategy to rebut any evidence demonstrating that the victim was the first aggressor.

Prior Bad Acts

The evidence that a person committed other crimes or committed other wrongs cannot be used as admissible evidence to prove a person’s character and demonstrate that a person acted on the basis of such trait.

This prohibition is outlined in Section 404(b) of the Federal Rules of Evidence.

In other words, the prior bad acts of a person cannot be used as evidence to prove a person’s character leading him or her to commit a wrong.

Section 404b provides the parameters as to how evidence of other crimes or wrongdoings may be used.

The evidence of prior acts, crimes, wrongs, or acts can be used as evidence to prove:

  • Motive
  • Opportunity 
  • Intent
  • Preparation
  • Plan
  • Knowledge
  • Identity 
  • Absence of mistake
  • Lack of accident

FRE 404 b further states that if the prosecutor intends to use such evidence of prior acts, it must provide a notice to the defendant giving him or her the chance to prepare.

Under Section FRE 404(b), the prosecutor must:

  • Provide reasonable notice to the defendant that such evidence will be used
  • Explain to the defendant for what purpose it intends to use this evidence 
  • Provide the notice and explanations in writing before trial 

Rule 404 Evidence Civil Lawsuit

The FRE Rule 404 is an evidentiary statute particularly used in criminal cases.

Under this statute, 404 b evidence is used to exclude a person’s character (or actions) as evidence that the person committed wrong on the basis of that character.

This type of evidence may be used in civil cases as well although it is not used as much.

In civil lawsuits such as fraud or misrepresentation cases, it’s possible to use evidence of knowledge, intention, or the plan of the defendant under Rule 404b.

FRE 404 Exceptions

What are the exceptions to the evidence Rule 404?

A defendant in a criminal action can present character evidence about his or her own traits or about the victim’s traits.

If the evidence is admitted, the prosecutor will have the right to present evidence to rebut the defendant’s evidence.

Rule 404a also states that in homicide cases, the prosecutor may offer evidence about the victim’s peacefulness when the defendant alleges that the victim was the first aggressor.

There are additional exceptions outlined under 404 FRE:

  • Prior knowledge
  • Lack of mistake
  • Motive
  • Opportunity 
  • Intent
  • Preparation
  • Plan
  • Identity 
  • Lack of accident 

Under Rule 404 b, a party may present evidence to demonstrate opportunity, motive, intent, plan, and the like.

If such evidence is to be presented in a criminal case, the prosecutor has a duty to provide the defendant with a written notice outlining that such evidence will be used along with an overall explanation as to the reasoning why.

Takeaways 

What is the legal application of FRE 404?

Let’s look at a summary of our findings.

FRE 404

  • A defendant in a criminal lawsuit can provide propensity evidence about himself or herself
  • A party may leverage character evidence to show that a witness’ dishonest propensities 
  • A criminal defendant can use propensity evidence about the victim 
  • Rule 404(b) is generally used in criminal cases but can also be used in civil lawsuits such as fraud, misrepresentation, or trade secrets disputes 
  • There are some exceptions to this rule where the defendant in a criminal case can present evidence about his or her traits or the victim’s character 
  • Other exceptions are outlined in FRE 404b where evidence of other prior bad acts can be used to prove things like the absence of mistake, lack of accident, identity, knowledge, plan, preparation, intent, opportunity, or motive 
Character Evidence
Character Testimony 
Doctrine of Chance 
Evidence Rules
Federal Rules of Evidence
Fraud
Irreparable Harm
Mimic Evidence
Mimic Rule
Misrepresentation
Preliminary Injunction
Prior Bad Acts
Propensity Evidence
Author
Editorial Staffhttps://lawyer.zone
Hello Nation! I'm a lawyer and passionate about law. I've practiced law in a boutique law firm, worked in a multi-national organization and as in-house counsel. I've been around the block! On this blog, I provide you with golden nuggets of information about lawyers, attorneys, the law and legal theories. Enjoy!

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