In Arson case, evidence of a previous fire was admitted to show a common plan or scheme in the burning of an occupied structure which was defendant’s house. Evidence from an anonymous informant was also admitted. Defendant was convicted of arson, a class 2 dangerous felony, and attempted fraudulent schemes and artifices, a class 3 felony. Conviction affirmed by the Arizona Court of Appeals.
When defendant’s home was set on fire in 2009, she was charged with two felonies: arson of an occupied structure (class 2 dangerous felony) and attempted fraudulent schemes and artifices (class 3 felony).
To establish a common plan or scheme after evidentiary hearing, evidence of a set fire that destroyed defendant’s unoccupied trailer in 2007 was admitted. Ariz. R. Evid. 404(b) directs how evidence of other crimes, wrongs, or acts, should be handled:
Except as provided in Rule 404(c) evidence of other crimes, wrongs, or acts is not admissible to prove the character of a person in order to show action in conformity therewith. It may, however, be admissible for other purposes, such as proof of motive, opportunity, intent, preparation, plan, knowledge, identity, or absence of mistake or accident.
To be admissible, a prior bad act must be shown, by clear and convincing evidence, to have been committed by the defendant. As an aside, this is considered to be a lesser burden than proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
In the arson case, the judge found the probative value of the 2007 trailer fire evidence “was not substantially outweighed by the dangers of unfair prejudice, confusion of the issues, or misleading the jury.”
The 2007 trailer fire was admissible as “other act evidence” and included the following:
The court declined defendant’s motion to discover the informant’s identity.
While under oath in 2009, defendant stated only her hot dog cart was lost or destroyed in the 2007 trailer fire. Among other things, defendant said she had “moved ‘slush machines’ … stored in her backyard into her residence before the 2009 fire.”
Other relevant evidence included similar unverified claims by defendant of thefts prior to both fires:
The jury was instructed to use the 2007 trailer fire evidence to establish “motive, intent, knowledge, lack of mistake or accident, preparation and common plan/modus operandi.” The trailer fire was not offered to show defendant’s character for or propensity to commit the charged act. Arieva appealed her conviction.
On Appeal, defendant argued the trial court abused its discretion in denying her motion to disclose the informant’s identity and in admitting the 2007 trailer fire evidence. Arieva argued the state failed to carry its burden of proving by clear and convincing evidence that: 1) she was involved in the 2007 trailer fire or; 2) the trailer fire was part of a “common plan or scheme” of the charged crime.
The Court of Appeals affirmed the conviction. The state met its evidentiary burden with regard to the 2007 trailer fire. The evidence was admissible to show a common scheme or plan of which the charged crime of arson was a part. Citing State v. Ives, 187 Ariz. 102 (1996).
The appeals court discussed the policy of protecting an informant’s identity unless nondisclosure would deprive the defendant of a fair trial. Arieva’s constitutional right to confront witnesses did not entitle her to the tipster’s identity. Lastly, defendant failed to show this informant had evidence material to her “guilt or punishment” as required before disclosure of tipster’s identity is possible.
For precise language, read the court’s original opinion. Legal citations omitted.
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