Should Trial Court Accept Defendant's Offer to Stipulate Even Over Prosecution's Objection If He Had Been Previously Convicted ?
In Old Chief v. United States (519 U.S. 172, 136 L. Ed. 2d 574, 117 S. Ct. 644), the defendant was prosecuted for the crime of possession of a weapon having been previously convicted of a crime punishable by imprisonment in excess of one year.
The statute did not require that any particular crime be committed.
The defendant offered to "solve the problem here by stipulating, agreeing and requesting the Court to instruct the jury that he has been convicted of a crime punishable by imprisonment exceeding one (1) year" (175). the prosecution refused to accept the proposed stipulation and argued that it had the right to prove the case in any fashion that was legal.
The trial court refused the unilateral offer to stipulate and admitted the evidence as to the name of the crime. the United States Supreme Court reversed the conviction stating that the prejudicial effect of informing the jury of the name of the defendant's prior crime outweighed the probative value of the evidence.
The Court held that notwithstanding the prosecution's right to present evidence of its choice, where the defendant's status as a person with a previous conviction is the element which enhances the crime, the trial court should accept the defendant's offer to stipulate even over the prosecution's objection.
The Old Chief majority in a lengthy discussion identified two reasons for the "general rule" that the prosecution is entitled to prove its case by evidence of its choice and not by stipulation (187-189).
The first reason is that live evidence, as opposed to stipulations, is more vivid in the minds of a juror and paints a clearer picture of what happened at the time of the crime.
The second reason is to fulfill a juror's expectations of evidence of the crime.
Nonetheless, in Old Chief the Court found the rational inapplicable to the issue of the element of the defendant's status as a person convicted of a crime punishable by a term of imprisonment of more than one year.