N.J.R.E. 404(B) Interpretation

Generally, in "motive" cases under N.J.R.E. 404(b) or its predecessor, N.J. Evid. R. 55, the evidence in question is designed to show why a defendant engaged in a particular, specific criminal act. For example, the State may want to show that the defendant was seeking revenge against a victim who had cheated him while the two were engaged in a prior criminal act. Or it may claim the defendant was attempting to prevent testimony by a victim concerning the defendant's guilt of a prior crime. Thus, in State v. Collier, 316 N.J. Super. 181, 193, 719 A.2d 1276 (App.Div.1998) aff'd o.b., 162 N.J. 27, 738 A.2d 369 (1999), the State claimed defendant shot his victim in retaliation for the victim's implicating defendant in the mutilation killing of a dog. The court emphasized that the motive evidence was important to the State's case: "The evidence was relevant to prove defendant's motive for robbing and shooting the victim whom he had known for a number of years and with whom his relations had always been friendly. The State needed to show why defendant would rob and shoot his friend intending to kill him." In State v. Baldwin, 47 N.J. 379, 391, 47 N.J. 379, 221 A.2d 199, cert. denied, 385 U.S. 980, 87 S. Ct. 527, 17 L. Ed. 2d 442 (1966), the State claimed defendant killed his victim because the victim intended to testify against defendant concerning a prior robbery. The court held that evidence of the prior robbery was admissible to show a motive for defendant's committing the specific act with which he was charged. State v. Slocum, 130 N.J. Super. 358, 362-63, 327 A.2d 244 (App.Div.1974), involved a defendant accused of robbery and atrocious assault and battery. Evidence that the defendant had robbed the victim on an earlier occasion, that she had testified against defendant concerning that incident, and that he later attacked her in revenge for her earlier action was admissible. Again, the "motive" evidence was related to the specific crime at issue and did not seek to demonstrate a general propensity to commit crime. To the same effect, see State v. Schubert, 235 N.J. Super. 212, 224, 561 A.2d 1186 (App.Div.1989), certif. denied, 121 N.J. 597, 583 A.2d 302 (1990) (defendant's prior threat against his landlord because of a rent increase was admissible to show animosity toward the landlord and motive to commit the arson with which defendant was charged); State v. Homer, 86 N.J. Super. 351, 362-64, 206 A.2d 905 (App.Div.1965) (when defendant was charged with wrongfully removing the body of his brother who had died from a drug overdose, defendant's own use of drugs was admissible to show that his motive for moving the body was to avoid being charged with a narcotics offense); State v. Smith, 55 N.J. 476, 487-88, 262 A.2d 868, cert. denied, 400 U.S. 949, 91 S. Ct. 232, 27 L. Ed. 2d 256 (1970) (in trial for assaulting a police officer, evidence that defendant's driver's license had been revoked was admissible to show motive for resistance when officer stopped defendant and asked to see his license).