McGeorge School of Law

The Misuse of Other-Acts Evidence Obliterates The Rule Against Convicting on Propensity


March 17 - 17, 2010


Federal Rule of Evidence 404 bans "propensity evidence": the use of an actor's other acts to prove his character and, thereby, "action in conformity therewith." Informally, this is known as the "he's done it before, so that's the kind of guy he is, so he must have done it here" rule.

Professor Sonenshein discussed the ways in which the safe harbor of Rule 404(b) — the use of other acts "for other purposes, such as motive, opportunity, intent ..." - threatens to swallow the overall rule banning propensity convictions.

Professor Sonenshein has had a distinguished teaching career. He began his career at Boston University and has also taught at DePaul University and George Washington University, where he was the Lyle T. Alverson Professor of Law. At Temple, he was named the I. Herman Stern Professor of Law in 1992. His many awards include the Outstanding Professor Award at both DePaul and Temple Law Schools a total of six times. In 2004, Professor Sonenshein was honored as one of the finest teachers at Temple when he received the University's Lindback Award for Outstanding Teaching. In 2007, he was awarded the University's Great Teacher Award. His list of publications is extensive. He is co-author with the late Irving Younger and Michael Goldsmith of the casebook Principles of Evidence. He has also co-authored ten other books on Evidence as well as a number of articles on Evidence and Civil Procedure. Further, he has been actively involved in training lawyers and judges in the law of Evidence and advocacy skills.