United States v. Beasley
809 F.2d 1273 (1987)

  • Beasley was a chemist.  He went to a doctor named Rucker and claimed that he had a theory that prescription tranquilizers would help plants grow vegetables.
  • He convinced Rucker to write out prescriptions for lots of drugs, made out to Beasley and his assistants (Brooks and Pierce).  He then convinced three pharmacists to fill the prescriptions.
    • All of the drugs Beasley claimed he needed were controlled substances (e.g. Morphine, Demerol, Valium, etc.)
    • Brooks just happened to be a convicted drug dealer.
  • Unsurprisingly, Beasley was arrested and charged with selling the drugs on the black market.
    • Beasley argued that he had given the drugs to the vegetables.
  • At trial, the prosecution attempted to introduce testimony by Terrell and Parks to show that Beasley was involved in drug deals and ‘doctor shopping’ some years before he went to Rucker.
    • Beasley objected on the grounds that evidence of an extrinsic act was inadmissible.
    • The prosecution argued that the evidence helped to establish a pattern that Beasley was involved in dealing drugs.
  • The Trial Judge allowed the evidence to be admitted under FRE 404(b).
    • FRE 404(b) says that, “Evidence of other crimes, wrongs, or acts is not admissible to prove the character of a person in order to show action in conformity therewith. It may, however, be admissible for other purposes, such as proof of motive, opportunity, intent, preparation, plan, knowledge, identity, or absence of mistake or accident.”
  • Beasley was convicted of drug offenses.  He appealed.
  • The Appellate Court partially reversed and remanded for a new trial.
    • The Appellate Court found that there was a two part test to determine if an extrinsic act was admissible under FRE 404(b).
      • First, it must be determined that the extrinsic offence evidence is relevant to an issue other than the defendant’s character.
      • Second, the evidence must possess probative value that is not substantially outweighed by its undue prejudice, and meet the requirements of FRE 403.
    •  The Appellate Court found that under FRE 404(b) if showing a ‘pattern’ of drug dealing is only offered to show a propensity of the defendant to commit the crime he is charged with, then that goes to Beasley’s character, and is therefore prohibited under FRE 404(b).
      • “Patterns of acts may show identity, intent, plan absence of mistake, or one of the other listed grounds, but a pattern is not itself a reason to admit the evidence.”
    • However, the Appellate Court found that the evidence can theoretically be used to prove intent, especially in this case where Beasley claimed he bought the drugs to conduct some scientific experiment.
      • Pattern evidence can also be used to show “identity.”  This is the same as “modus operandi” or “signature crimes” and usually requires close proximity in time.
        • Here, the acts were not so similar or unusual to qualify as “pattern” evidence.
    • In order to be admissible under FRE 404(b), the Trial Judge has to weigh the benefits of the evidence for intent purposes against the danger of prejudice.
      • In this case, the Trial Judge did not conduct such balancing test, so the case is remanded to determine if the evidence should be admissible or not.
    • The Appellate Court found that the two counts of fraudulently obtaining drugs would stand because any error was harmless, because Beasley represented that Brooks and Pierce were his research assistants, when they were not, and Rucker had written prescriptions for them that were based on misrepresentation.