This case is about whether a letter written by the plaintiff
Carter, a prison inmate, violated the Federal Rules of Evidence
when it was read and admitted into evidence at the trial of a
1983 action brought by Carter against prison authorities.
Carter is a prison inmate.
He claims he was severely beaten during a police shakedown by 3
He wrote a letter about how to file a complaint concerning
police brutality to another inmate.
Admitted and Denied
Carter admitted that he had written the letter, and also
admitted that he had
denied writing this same letter
when he had been questioned as to its authorship in an earlier
prison disciplinary proceeding.
Df - read the letter
Defense counsel asked Carter to read the letter.
Pl - Objected
Carter objected on the grounds of relevance, claiming that the
letter had been written six months after the alleged beating
Carter Read Letter
Complying with the Magistrate's direction, Carter read the
The letter, which was undated, generally described to its
unidentified recipient how
to file a complaint charging prison guard brutality.
This is a set up my brother
- compile complaints to be used for
bullshit courts, possibly news media, and a radio
program in Pittsburg (sic) & W.D.A.S. down Philly.
We want to establish a pattern of
barbaric brutal harassment (sic) and turn it on these
chumps to the max.
Defense counsel suggested that this letter was a direction to
file a false brutality complaint.
Carter claimed that he was only encouraging the filing of a
We believe, quite simply, that the
letter is admissible, substantive evidence because it
bears on the central factual
issue in the case whether Carter was beaten by prison
guards on September 22, 1977.
Evidence is relevant if it has "any tendency to make the
existence of any fact that is of consequence to determination of
the action more probable or less probable than it would be
without the evidence." F.R.Evid. 401.
factfinder could reasonably
interpret this letter as reflecting a plan on
Carter's part to promote the filing
of false complaints.
factfinder could further draw the
inference that Carter's
own complaint about being
beaten on September 22, 1977 had been filed pursuant
to that plan.
Thus, the letter is relevant: it has
some tendency to make Carter's assertion that he was beaten less
likely to be true than it would be without the
Since the letter is relevant, it is also admissible, unless its
admission is otherwise restricted. F.R.Evid. 402.
Rule 403. Exclusion of Relevant Evidence on Grounds of
Prejudice, Confusion, or Waste of Time
Although relevant, evidence may be excluded
by the danger of unfair prejudice, confusion of the issues, or
misleading the jury, or by considerations of undue delay, waste
of time, or needless presentation of cumulative evidence.
This rule cannot help Carter.
It does not offer protection against evidence that is merely
prejudicial, in the sense of being detrimental to a party's
Rather, the rule only protects against evidence that is unfairly
When Evidence is Unfairly Prejudicial
Evidence is unfairly prejudicial only if it has "an undue
tendency to suggest decision on an improper basis, commonly,
though not necessarily, an emotional one."
Appeals to Sympathies
if it "appeals to the
arouses its sense of horror,
provokes its instinct to punish," or otherwise "may cause a jury
to base its decision on something other than the established
propositions in the case."
Criminal Record - Prohibited
A classic example of
is a jury's conclusion,
after hearing a recitation
of a defendant's prior criminal record, that, since the
defendant committed so many other crimes,
he must have committed this one too.
This is an improper basis of decision, and
the law accordingly prohibits introduction of prior convictions
to demonstrate a propensity to commit crime.
Carter has made no showing of unfair prejudice.
He cannot claim exclusions of the letter under rule 403.