Marital Discord Isn’t Always a § 60-455 “Crime or Civil Wrong”

State v. Campbell, No. 116,430 (Kan. Aug. 17, 2018). 

Issue: The Kansas Rules of Evidence prohibit using evidence of past “crimes or civil wrongs” as character evidence (with limited exceptions). For purposes of evidence, is marital discord a past “crime or civil wrong”?

Answer: No. Marital discord, by itself, is not a past crime or wrong.

Facts: A jury convicted Campbell of first-degree premeditated murder of his wife. Campbell’s sister-in-law testified that Campbell was controlling and distrustful of his wife, and that their relationship was rocky at best. Campbell objected, arguing that the testimony about marital strife was impermissible character evidence.

Discussion: In State v. Gunby, the Court suggested that any evidence of marital discord qualifies as a crime or civil wrong, and was therefore (usually) inadmissible. The Court now clarifies: “such a bright-line rule concerning marital discord is too broad.”

Marital discord may ripen into crimes or civil wrongs. Physical abuse within a discordant marriage, for example, would likely be a past wrong. It may only be introduced for a proper purposee.g., to prove motive, opportunity, intent, identity, etc.under the rules of evidence.

Key Authorities: 

Kansas Rules of Evidence: Other Crimes or Civil Wrongs, K.S.A. § 60-455 (limiting the use of character evidence based on past acts).

State v. Gunby, 282 Kan. 39 (2006) (implying that evidence of marital discord must be admitted for a proper purpose under § 60-455).

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