William & Mary Bill of Rights Journal


In this Article, Professor Robinson argues that the meaning of "unfair prejudice" and the scope of trial judges' discretion in employing Rule 403 of the Federal Rules of Evidence is still uncertain following the Supreme Court's recent decision in United States v. Old Chief and its vacation and remand of United States v. Crowder and United States v. Davis. Robinson evaluates the evidentiary implications of the Supreme Court's recent decisions by discussing each case and analyzing the implications of the three cases read together.

Professor Robinson examines the possible effects of stipulations and admissions on the Rule 403 balancing test for exclusion of relevant evidence, highlighting the distinctions of the stipulations in Old Chief as compared to those in Crowder and Davis. In addition, he discusses the appropriate role of emotionally laden evidence in trial processes. He also ponders the scope of trial judges' discretion to exclude evidence under Rule 403 after Old Chief, Crowder, and Davis. Finally, Professor Robinson analyzes the possible interpretations of Old Chief, from a very narrow reading to a very broad one, to conclude that read with Crowder and Davis, the ruling in Old Chief was relatively conservative and will likely be limited by the Court in future decisions to its specific facts or to other cases involving legal status issues. As such, traditional practices remain largely undisturbed.

Robinson notes that the Court articulated a cautious rationale for reversing the conviction in Old Chief and explains that far more sweeping change could have been effected if the court had applied differently the definition of relevancy in Rule 401 or, alternatively, the balancing test of Rule 403. Robinson concludes that Old Chief clearly means that trial judges do not have unlimited discretion to decline to exclude evidence under Rule 403 but that the extent of this limitation must await the clarification of further decisions

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