During a trial for murder, the State offered bail bonds it found in John Doe's father's house to prove John Doe (Doe) lived there at the time of the offense. Even though there were numerous other pieces of evidence proving Doe lived with his father at the time of the offense, the trial court admitted the bail bonds into evidence.
Did the trial court err by admitting the bail bonds into evidence?
Although relevant to proving a "fact of consequence," evidence of extraneous offenses is inadmissible if its danger of unfairly prejudicing the defendant outweighs its probative value. Tex. R. Evid. 403; Prible v. State, 175 S.W.3d 724, 732-33 (Tex. Crim. App. 2005); Montgomery v. State, 810 S.W.2d 372, 388 (Tex. Crim. App. 1990). And four factors are used to determine whether the evidence's danger of unfairly prejudicing the defendant outweighs its probative value: (1) the "probative value of the evidence," (2) the "potential to impress the jury in some irrational, yet indelible way," (3) "the time [during trial] needed to develop the evidence, and (4) "the proponent's need for the evidence." Prible, 175 S.W.3d at 733; Montgomery, 810 S.W. 2d at 389-90. And if other evidence is available to establish the "fact of consequence," the offered evidence weighs less than if it were the only available evidence. Montgomery, 810 S.W.2d at 390.
Using these factors, the trial court erred when it admitted the bail bonds proving Doe was on bond for misdemeanor offenses. The State offered the bail bonds to prove Doe lived next to the home where Joel Garcia was murdered inasmuch as it related to identifying him as the murderer. (1) The probative value of the bail bonds was slight: They merely proved that Doe had been in the home adjacent to the murder and left bail bond papers there. Therefore, this factor weighs in favor of excluding the bail bonds. (2) The bail bonds also depicted Doe as a man in trouble with the law who had most likely committed the offenses listed on the bail bonds. And the jury likely concluded Doe was nothing but a criminal and must have murdered Joel Garcia. This factor also weighs in favor of excluding the bail bonds. (3) The State did not need to spend much time developing the bail bonds. It merely needed to prove the bonds were found in the home adjacent to the murder scene and had been issued to Doe. Thus, this factor weighs in favor admitting the bonds into evidence. (4) But the State had other evidence which established Doe was a resident in the home adjacent to the murder scene: Doe's father testified that Doe lived with him in the home; Esmeralda Martinez testified Doe lived in the home and identified the photograph of Doe as Saul Doe, who lived in the home next door. This evidence, especially the testimony of Doe's father, diminishes the probative value of the bail bonds substantially, and this factor also weighs in favor of excluding the bail bonds from evidence. In fact, the State did not need to admit the bail bonds at all to prove Doe lived next to the murder scene.
Therefore, the bail bonds' danger of unfairly prejudicing the defendant outweighs their probative value, and the trial court erred when it admitted the bail bonds into evidence.