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United States of America v. Rodney Wesley Frierson and Angel Leduann anderson

February 28, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Goldberg, J.

Memorandum Opinion

The issue currently before the Court pertains to the admissibility, pursuant to FED. R. EVID. 404(b), of a 2006 drug distribution conviction. Based on the record before us, we conclude that the Government has not clearly articulated how this conviction fits into a chain of logical inferences that is probative of a purpose other than character. Moreover, the probative value of this evidence is far outweighed by its prejudicial effect. Thus, the Government's Rule 404(b) motion to admit this conviction will be denied.


Defendants, Rodney Frierson and Angel Anderson, have been charged with conspiracy to possess with the intent to distribute and possession with intent to distribute 500 grams or more of cocaine in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 846 and 841 (Counts I and II). Frierson is also charged with possessing a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1) (Count III), and being a felon in possession of a firearm in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g) (Count IV). The facts leading up to these charges are as follows:

On January 15, 2010, Pennsylvania State Trooper, Justin Hope, was positioned at the Valley Forge entrance ramp of the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Shortly after 10:30 a.m., Hope observed two men in a black Chevrolet Tahoe sports utility vehicle ("SUV") entering the Turnpike. Hope followed the SUV, clocking it for approximately one mile traveling at 76 mph in a 65 mph zone. Having observed a violation of the Pennsylvania Motor Vehicle Code, Hope activated his vehicle lights whereupon the SUV immediately pulled over. (Govt.'s Mot. 2.)

Hope approached the SUV, introduced himself, and asked the driver, Defendant Rodney Frierson, for his drivers license and registration. Frierson produced his license and an Enterprise rental agreement. The passenger, co-defendant Angel Anderson, stated that he had rented the car and volunteered his license. Hope reviewed both licenses as well as the rental agreement, which indicated that the vehicle was rented by Anderson and that Frierson was not authorized to drive. (Govt.'s Mot. 2-3.)

After verifying the status of the rental agreement with Enterprise, Trooper Hope told Frierson that because he was not an authorized driver under the agreement, Anderson was going to have to drive. Shortly thereafter, Hope asked Frierson to exit the SUV and conducted a pat-down of Frierson, along with backup Trooper Luke Straniere.*fn1 The pat-down resulted in the recovery of a .45 caliber handgun from Frierson's waistband. Because Frierson has a felony conviction, he was arrested for being a felon in possession and was placed in Straniere's police vehicle. Frierson and Anderson were subsequently transported to the State Police barracks, where the SUV was also towed. (Govt.'s Mot. 3-4.)

At the police barracks, the troopers searched the SUV and found approximately 995 grams of cocaine, a vacuum sealer, and five rolls of plastic vacuum sealed bags. These items were located in a luggage bag that was in the rear storage area of the vehicle. This bag also contained paperwork, including plane tickets, plane ticket stubs, a receipt from Enterprise, and a receipt from a hotel, all of which were in Anderson's name. (Govt.'s Mot. 4.)

Presently before the Court is the Government's "Motion in Limine to Admit Evidence Under Rule 404(b)," wherein it seeks to admit Frierson's 2006 California conviction for "unlawful possession for sale and purchase for purpose of sale of cocaine base."*fn2 Hearings were held on this and other motions on January 3, 2012 and January 9, 2012.


Federal Rule of Evidence 404(b), which governs the admission of evidence of prior crimes, wrongs, and acts, provides in pertinent part that:

Evidence of a crime, wrong, or other act is not admissible to prove a person's character in order to show that on a particular occasion the person acted in accordance with the character. . . . [However, t]his evidence may be admissible for another purpose, such as proving motive, opportunity, intent, preparation, plan, knowledge, identity, absence of mistake, or lack of accident.

FED. R. EVID. 404(b). This rule is inclusive, not exclusive, United States v. Sampson, 980 F.2d 883, 886 (3d Cir. 1992), and emphasizes admissibility if such evidence is "relevant for any other purpose than to show a mere propensity or disposition on the part of the defendant to commit the crime." United States v. Givan, 320 F.3d 452, 460 (3d Cir. 2003) (internal quotation marks omitted).

In determining whether evidence of a defendant's prior conviction is admissible, we must engage in a four-part analysis. Huddleston v. United States, 485 U.S. 681 (1988); see also United States v. Kellogg, 510 F.3d 188, 199 n.10 (3d Cir. 2007).First, we must decide whether the evidence is being offered for a proper purpose as set forth in FED. R. EVID. 404(b). Second, we must examine whether the evidence is relevant under FED. R. EVID. 402. Third, we must determine whether the probative value of the evidence substantially outweighs its risk of unfair prejudice as set forth in FED. R. EVID. 403. Finally, if the evidence is deemed admissible, the jury must be instructed to consider the evidence "only for the limited purpose for which it was admitted." Id.


Before examining the standards set forth in Huddleston, we will first reviewthe details (or lack thereof) supplied by the Government regarding Frierson's 2006 conviction, and the Government's stated purposes under Rule 404(b) for introducing this conviction.

In its motion to admit the Rule 404(b) evidence, the Government describes the prior conviction as follows:

On or about November 16, 2006, in the Superior Court of California, County of Riverside, the defendant was convicted of the felony offense of unlawful possession for sale and purchase for purpose of sale of cocaine base, arising out of an offense that took place on November 14, 2006 (Case No. RIF133278). (Govt.'s Mot. 4.) When asked by the Court to supply further details about this prior offense, the Government could not do so. (See Jan. 9, 2012 Hr'g Tr. 18) (responding to the Court's inquiry about the facts of the prior conviction, the Assistant United States Attorney ("AUSA") stated: "Unfortunately, I don't have all the facts. What I do have is just that it's a conviction for cocaine base crack . . . .") Thus, the only information before us regarding the prior conviction is the charged offense, date and state of ...

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