Spreigl Evidence – The Basics

Spreigl evidence is evidence of other crimes, wrongs or acts. In other words, it is evidence that a person engaged in a bad act other than that which led to the case at hand. Minnesota Rule of Evidence 404(b) excludes other acts evidence to prove that the person acted the same way in the matter on trial, but allows admission of this evidence for the purpose of showing motive, opportunity, intent, preparation, plan, knowledge, identity, or absence of mistake or accident.

In a criminal prosecution, Spreigl evidence may not be admitted unless: (1) the state gives notice of its intent to admit the evidence; (2) the state clearly indicates what the evidence will be offered to prove; (3) the other act and the defendant’s involvement in it are proven by clear and convincing evidence; (4) the evidence is relevant to the state’s case; and (5) the probative value of the evidence is not outweighed by its potential for unfair prejudice to the defendant.  Minnesota Rule of Evidence 404(b)State v. Ness, 707 N.W.2d 676, 686 (Minn. 2006).  With regard to the last prong of this analysis, if the comparison between probative value and potential for unfair prejudice is a close call, the evidence should be excluded.  Ness, 707 N.W.2d 676.

Though the Rule 404(b) analysis is most often addressed in criminal cases, the basic rule prohibiting evidence of other bad acts to prove character but allowing this evidence for other purposes also applies to civil cases.  M.L. v. Magnuson, 531 N.W.2d 849 (Minn. App. 1995).  Based on the language used in Rule 404(b), it seems that the Rule 403 analysis governs the consideration of probative value verses potential for unfair prejudice and the ultimate decision on admission of the evidence in civil cases.  

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