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State v. Mazziotti

Supreme Court of Oregon

April 27, 2017

STATE OF OREGON, Petitioner on Review,
v.
BRETT NICHOLAS MAZZIOTTI, Respondent on Review.

          Argued and Submitted November 14, 2016

         On appeal from the Court of Appeals (CC 201218698; CA A153713).[*]

          Doug M. Petrina, Assistant Attorney General, Salem, argued the cause and fled the brief for petitioner on review. Also on the brief were Ellen F. Rosenblum, Attorney General, and Benjamin Gutman, Solicitor General.

          Kristin A. Carveth, Deputy Public Defender, Salem, argued the cause and fled the brief for respondent on review. Also on the brief was Ernest G. Lannet, Chief Defender, Offce of Public Defense Services.

          Before Balmer, Chief Justice, and Kistler, Walters, Landau, Brewer, and Nakamoto, Justices, and Baldwin, Senior Justice, Justice pro tempore. [**]

         The decision of the Court of Appeals is affirmed. The judgment of the trial court is reversed, and the case is remanded to the trial court for further proceedings, consistently with this opinion.

          Case Summary: Today, the Oregon Supreme Court, following State v. Baughman, 361 Or, P.3d (2017), explained that the legislature intended that trial courts, in determining whether to admit evidence under OEC 404(4), conduct the balancing required by OEC 403 according to its terms. Trial courts may exclude evidence, in the exercise of their discretion, when they determine that its probative value is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice. In this prosecution for failure to perform the duties of a driver, reckless endangerment, and reckless driving, the trial court improperly admitted other acts evidence without conducting OEC 403 balancing.

         The Court affirmed the decision of the Court of Appeals, reversed the judgment of the circuit court, and remanded the case to the trial court for a determination of the relevant purposes of other acts evidence that the state proffers under OEC 404(3) or OEC 404(4), balancing under OEC 403, and a determination of whether a new trial is necessary or appropriate.

          WALTER S, J.

         In this case, a prosecution for failure to perform the duties of a driver, reckless endangerment, and reckless driving, the trial court admitted other acts evidence over defendant's objection and, the state concedes, without conducting OEC 403 balancing. We agree with the Court of Appeals that that was reversible error. State v. Mazziotti, 276 Or.App. 773, 360 P.3d 1200 (2016). We affirm the decision of the Court of Appeals, reverse the trial court's judgment of conviction, and remand the case to the trial court for further proceedings.

         Defendant was charged with crimes arising from a 2012 traffic accident that occurred after defendant, who was driving a motorcycle, had been speeding. When a car turned in front of defendant, he was unable to avoid a collision, and his passenger was thrown from the motorcycle and sustained injuries. After the accident, defendant moved his passenger to the side of the road, moved the motorcycle from the roadway, and then accepted a ride from the scene from a passerby. Ultimately, defendant was charged with failure to perform the duties of a driver, reckless endangerment, and reckless driving.

         Before trial, the state moved to admit evidence of two prior police encounters that defendant had had with police officers and the criminal convictions that resulted from those encounters. The first encounter had resulted in convictions for reckless driving and attempting to elude. A police officer testified that, when defendant failed to stop at a stop sign, the officer had initiated a traffic stop and defendant had driven away with the police in pursuit. Defendant had increased his speed to roughly 55 miles per hour, led the police into a residential neighborhood, and made two immediate turns at a high rate of speed. During the second encounter, defendant had driven through a stop sign at a high rate of speed and lost control of his vehicle, nearly hitting a police vehicle. Defendant again was convicted of reckless driving.

         Before the trial court, the state argued that that other acts evidence was relevant for nonpropensity purposes, viz., to prove "motive and knowledge" and to show defendant's "criminal intent and in this case the awareness and disregard, and the recklessness." Defendant argued that the evidence should be excluded because it was not relevant for any nonpropensity purpose and that, even if it were relevant, its probative value was substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice, under OEC 403. The state countered that balancing was not required "unless [there was] some sort of constitutional issue at stake." Without stating whether it had engaged in any sort of balancing, the trial court admitted the evidence. Defendant was convicted of all charges.

         On appeal to the Court of Appeals, defendant assigned error to the trial court's admission of the other acts evidence. Id. at 777. Defendant initially challenged the admission of that evidence as improper character evidence under OEC 404(3). Id. After this court's decision in State v. Williams. 357 Or 1, 346 P.3d 455 (2015), defendant filed a supplemental brief arguing that, under Williams, the trial court was required to conduct OEC 403 balancing to determine whether the other acts evidence was admissible. Mazziotti, 276 Or.App. at 777. The state responded that, although the trial court had not explicitly stated whether it had conducted OEC 403 balancing, the court implicitly had done so. Id. The state also argued, in the alternative, that, even if the court had not conducted OEC 403 balancing, the balancing required under Williams is purely a "legal, due process question, " and that the Court of Appeals therefore could conduct the balancing itself, without remand. Id. The Court of Appeals rejected the state's arguments and held that, "where a defendant requests that the trial court exclude other acts evidence under OEC 403 because the probative value of the evidence is outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice, it ...


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