Imagine a person who suspects a government agency or corporation is lying, embezzling money, etc. Obviously, you would want to find direct evidence linking this individual to the alleged crime.

However, in this case we discover that the entity in question has a history of criminal behavior. It may have been accused or convicted of the same crime previously, or maybe it has other crimes on its record.

Similarly, you may discover that a certain practice spans generations. For example, you might note that governments have lied to citizens in order to provoke wars for centuries.

In summary, I guess you could say we're trying to make the case that the accused 1) has a pattern of criminal behavior or 2) is associated with a type of organization that has a historical record of criminal behavior.

Is there a term for this kind of evidence (or would it simply be called "logic"?), and can it be allowed in either criminal investigations or the courtroom?


In case 1, this kind of evidence is sometimes called "prior bad acts". In US criminal trials, it is generally not admissible.

For federal trials, Rule 404(b) of the Federal Rules of Evidence says:

Evidence of a crime, wrong, or other act is not admissible to prove a person’s character in order to show that on a particular occasion the person acted in accordance with the character.

It would still be fine for a criminal investigation to use such history to decide to investigate a suspect further, but it can't be used in court.

  • Wow, I think you nailed it. I'll wait a little longer before marking it as the correct answer, just to give others a chance to reply, but you pretty much answered my questions. – David Blomstrom Oct 14 '17 at 2:09

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