This note focuses on identity evidence—specifically, the admissibility of evidence of past crimes or acts in order to identify the defendant as the perpetrator of a crime. It explains how the Court, by improperly expanding its prior rulings, opened the floodgates to admit types of behavior that have not constituted uniquely identifying criminal signatures. It also seeks to illustrate the effect this expansion might have on the admissibility of such evidence in the future. Part II of this note begins with a brief background on applicable Montana law and an overview of the law’s purpose. Part II also discusses prior case law dealing with the admission of motive and modus operandi evidence, and how this case law and the theories behind it served as the foundation of the Court’s holding in Blaz. Specifically, while motive and modus operandi evidence have always been closely associated with each other, until Blaz, they had remained discrete. Parts III and IV examine the facts of Blaz and provide the Majority and Dissent’s analysis relating to the admissibility of identification evidence. Part V analyzes how the Court’s ruling is distinct from and reinterprets past cases. It argues that the Blaz Court created a new standard for admission of motive and modus operandi as identification evidence. Additionally, Part V explains how the Blaz decision was foreshadowed by precedent and considers its consequences going forward. Finally, this note concludes by placing the Court’s decision in context with other jurisdictions and briefly summarizes the author's analyses and predictions.
Britton Fraser, You Can't Escape Your Past: State v. Blaz and The Future of 404(b) Evidence in Montana, 80 Mont. L. Rev. 321 (2019).