Allen v. State (1997)
In Allen v. State, 945 P.2d 1233 (Alaska App. 1997) the Court acknowledged the law's historical reluctance to admit evidence of a defendant's past misdeeds as evidence of the defendant's criminal propensity.
But we rejected the contention that propensity evidence was "invariably so prejudicial as to destroy any possibility of a fair trial."
Allen involved a due process challenge to another subsection of Evidence Rule 404 -- subsection (a)(2), which authorizes a court to admit evidence of the defendant's character for violence to rebut a claim that the victim was the first aggressor.
The Court held that, because trial judges retain the authority under Evidence Rule 403 to exclude evidence that is more prejudicial than probative, Evidence Rule 404(a)(2) did not violate the guarantee of due process. The Court reach the same conclusion regarding Evidence Rule 404(b)(4).
The Court explained that the traditional prohibition against propensity evidence was based, not on the theory that the defendant's character lacked relevance, but rather on the policy consideration that a jury might be tempted to relax the government's normal burden of proof if they were convinced that the defendant was a bad person.