Brief Fact Summary. Terry Kim Perrin (“Mr. Perrin”) was shot and killed by Oklahoma state troopers. The troopers had gone to Mr. Perrin’s house to ask him questions about a traffic accident. At some point during the conversation, an altercation ensued and Mr. Perrin was killed by one of the officers.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. Under Federal Rules of Evidence (“F.R.E.”) Rule 405, testimony regarding specific instances of conduct may be used only when character is a material fact pursuant to substantive law in determining the rights and liabilities of the parties.
Mr. Perrin drove his car into the back of another car on an Oklahoma highway. Mr. Perrin walked to his home after he realized no one was injured. Two highway troopers went to his home to discuss the accident, and a fight ensued between the troopers and Mr. Perrin. Trooper Anderson shot and killed Mr. Perrin because he feared he was about to lose consciousness, and he thought Mr. Perrin was going to kill both troopers.
The plaintiff, administratrix of Perrin’s estate and guardian of his son (the “plaintiff”), alleged that the defendants, Donnie Anderson and Roland Von Schriltz (the “defendants”), members of the Oklahoma Highway Patrol, deprived Mr. Perrin of his civil rights when they shot and killed him. The plaintiff sued pursuant to 42 U.S.C. Section:1983 for compensatory and punitive damages. The incident occurred while the defendants were trying to obtain information regarding a traffic accident Mr. Perrin was involved in. The jury found for the defendants. The plaintiff contends the trial court erred in admitting testimony of four police officers describing previous violent encounters with Mr. Perrin. The four officers described various incidents in which Mr. Perrin was violent and uncontrollable.
Issue. Should the District Court have allowed the evidence establishing Mr. Perrin’s character?
Was it improper to allow testimony from the officers regarding specific instances of conduct pursuant to F.R.E. Rule 405?
Should the testimony of the officer have been allowed under F.R.E. Rule 406 to establish habit?
Held. The defendants were entitled to present evidence of Mr. Perrin’s character from which the jury could infer that Mr. Perrin was the aggressor.
The District Court should not have permitted testimony about specific prior incidents.
Circuit Judge Logan, found in affirming the decision of the district court, that the testimony of Mr. Perrin’s previous encounters with officers was admissible as evidence of habit under F.R.E. Rule 406.
Discussion. Points of Law - for Law School Success
In most instances, the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit is unwilling to permit a jury to infer that an individual performed the alleged acts based on a particular character trait. View Full Point of Law
While the Court found character evidence was admissible under F.R.E. Rule 404, the type of evidence offered was not allowed pursuant to F.R.E. Rule 405 because character was not a material fact under the substantive law. However, the Court affirmed the District Court’s alternative ruling allowing the character evidence to establish habit under F.R.E. Rule 406. During trial, the defendants were prepared to offer testimony from eight officers, but the Court only allowed four. Further, the Court explicitly stated that the testimony from four officers was sufficient to establish habit.