Johnson v. State

In Johnson v. State, 936 P.2d 458 (Wyo 1997) the Wyoming Supreme Court ruled that evidence of prior assaults on an ex-girlfriend were admissible in the defendant's trial for aggravated assault of his current girlfriend to prove, among other things, identity and motive. Id. at 463-64. There was no relationship between the two victims. On that point, however, the resemblance to our case ends. The facts in Johnson are so different as to be of no use here. The Johnson court's final comments suffice to illustrate a conspicuous distinction. The court found "substantial similarities between the two assaults" and concluded, "Although the two assaults were not identical, their commonalities created a powerful inference that Appellant had committed both assaults." Id. at 465. The Wyoming Supreme Court explained: Motive was also at issue in this case given that "the prosecution is permitted to prove the accused's motive to identify the accused as the perpetrator of the charged crime." According to Professor Imwinkelried: "Motive is not an ultimate fact or element of the crime; rather it is an intermediate, evidentiary fact. The courts have variously described the concept of motive as the reason that nudges the will and prods the mind to indulge the criminal intent,' an inducement or state of feeling that impels and tempts the mind to indulge in a criminal act,' and the moving force which impels to action for a definite result.' While intent accompanies the actus reus, the motive comes into play before the actus reus. The motive is a cause, and the actus reus is the effect." He continued: "That the defendant had a motive for that particular crime increases the inference of the defendant's identity. Many other persons presumably had no motive, and the defendant's motive raises the probability of defendant's identity.... It is ideal if the defendant is the only person with such a motive. At the other extreme, if the motivation is almost universal such as a general sexual desire, proof of the motive has little or no probative value on the issue of identity. In the motive cases ... the courts do not insist that the motive be truly unique to the defendant. The courts assume that motive has strong probative value because a motive naturally leads to action. If the motive is not universal but shared by many other persons, the courts tend to admit the proof of motive." (936 P.2d at 464.)