Texas Stamp


PD-1089-20 02/03/2021

1. “The court of appeals erred in holding the trial judge abused her discretion in admitting into evidence two of appellant’s prior cocaine convictions in order to prove appellant’s knowledge and/or intent with regard to the cocaine recovered in the charged offense, even after a defense witness claimed appellant had no knowledge or intent to commit the charged offense.”

2. “The court of appeals erred in holding that, upon introducing a defendant’s prior narcotics convictions into evidence in order to prove a defendant’s knowledge and/or intent in his current narcotics prosecution, the State must also show the facts or details of the prior narcotics cases in order to show their similarity to the charged offense.”

3. “The court of appeals erred in holding appellant’s substantial rights were adversely affected, for the purposes of TEX. R. APP. P. 44.2(b), merely because the purported error occurred—and nothing more.”

Police executed a search warrant on Lynch’s residence and discovered several cocaine rocks on his dresser. Lynch and three other people were there at the time; he claimed they all lived there. One of those present, Moreno, said the cocaine was hers, and she testified that Lynch had no knowledge of it and did not approve of cocaine. In rebuttal, the State offered the judgments and indictments from Lynch’s two prior convictions for possession of cocaine with intent to deliver. No testimony was offered. Over Lynch’s objection, the trial court admitted the exhibits and instructed the jury that they could not be considered as character evidence. The jury charge permitted the evidence to be used for the laundry list of non-conformity purposes listed in Rule 404(b).

On appeal, Lynch re-urged his challenge to the pen packs under Rule 404(b) and 403. The court of appeals held this evidence was inadmissible and reversed the conviction. More particularly, it held that the State could not admit the evidence to correct Moreno’s false impression that Lynch was not a cocaine-possession-kind-of-person because impeachment of that kind is permitted only through cross-examination, not admission of evidence. Regardless, it was inadmissible under Rule 403. Without sufficient details to demonstrate similarity to the underlying offense (such as similar amounts or means of possession), the evidence was of low probative value. Unlike evidence of trash pulls or controlled buys, the generic pen packs permitted the jury to conclude Lynch was a criminal generally and would have allowed them to focus more acutely on Lynch’s criminal history than the main issues of the underlying case. The jury charge’s laundry list of permissible non-conformity purposes would only have confused the jury rather than lessened the possible prejudice. Without additional evidence to guide the jury on the similarities to the charged conduct, the evidence’s probity was so substantially outweighed by unfair prejudice as to constitute a clear abuse of discretion. The error was also harmful. The pen packs were “[t]he strongest piece of evidence the State had against Lynch.”

The State argues that it never offered the prior convictions to impeach or correct a false impression. In any case, the limits on correcting a witness’s false impression apply to impeachment on a collateral issue, not testimony directly relevant to the charged offense such as Moreno’s. The State also contends that offering more details of the priors would have made them more prejudicial, not less. The State questions the court of appeals’s preference for evidence of trash pulls and controlled buys since these are also extraneous offenses and would take far longer to develop at trial than offering documentary evidence. The caselaw does not support the court of appeals’s conclusion that more details are necessary to show similarity of the charged offense. Instead, it suggests that previous drug possession is circumstantial evidence of intentional or knowing possession on the date of the charged offense and that jury instructions can minimize the danger of an impermissible propensity inference. The court of appeals erred in characterizing the jury instructions as having the opposite effect simply because there were non-conformity reasons listed that were inapplicable to the case. The State also takes issue with the court of appeals’s harm analysis. It contends its strongest piece of evidence was not a documentary exhibit; it was the police finding several grams of cocaine on Lynch’s dresser. It criticizes the court of appeals’s harm analysis as only reiterating its own merits analysis rather than examining how the alleged error might be considered in connection with other evidence and the existence and degree of the evidence supporting the verdict.   

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