In State v. Ashley, the Georgia Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals and held that the trial court did not err in admitting three similar transactions at the defendant’s trial for the purpose of showing his intent and his lustful disposition towards children.
A divided Court of Appeals had reversed the defendant’s kidnapping convictions involving two young girls. The Court of Appeals found that the trial court abused its discretion in allowing the State to introduce evidence of prior instances in which the defendant had allegedly behaved inappropriately towards young children at the pool in the trailer park.
The trial court ruled that the similar transaction evidence was admissible and particularly relevant because the defendant called his intent into question by claiming he had been confused, that he believed the minivan in question had belonged to his father, and that he was on drugs at the time. By raising this defense, the trial court held that the defendant opened the door to similar transaction evidence that demonstrated his malicious intent towards children.
Evidence of the prior incidents was introduced as similar transactions under Georgia’s old Evidence Code. The evidence was admitted “for the purpose of showing his intent when he engaged in the acts alleged in the indictment and to show his desires towards young children.”
The Court of Appeals held that the trial court erred in admitting this evidence because the prosecution did not argue that the defendant’s prior behavior was criminal and thus could not use it to show criminal intent.
The Supreme Court stated that the Court of Appeals confused the concept of criminal intent. It noted that intent exists independently of the act that constitutes the crime. It reasoned that “[d]epending on what the non-criminal behavior is, it might well evince an intent that, if coupled with different acts, would constitute a crime.” Moreover, the Court emphasized that the prior conduct need not constitute a crime in order to show intent since this type of evidence “was not limited to a defendant’s previous illegal conduct.”
As a result, the Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals’ decision and found that the trial court acted within its discretion in admitting the similar transaction evidence at the defendant’s trial.
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