Ohler v. United States

Facts of the Case

Petitioner, Maria Ohler, who had entered the United States in a van which was found to contain large amounts of marijuana, was charged in Federal District Court with importation of marijuana and possession of marijuana with intent to distribute. The government filed, among other items, a motion in limine seeking to introduce, for impeachment purposes, evidence of the individual’s previous felony conviction for possession of methamphetamine. Subsequently, the government obtained an order allowing the motion if the petitioner testified on her own behalf. The petitioner then chose to admit to the prior conviction on direct examination before the prosecution could introduce it. On appeal from her ensuing conviction, the petitioner challenged the District Court’s in limine ruling, but the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in affirming, ruled that the petitioner had waived her objection by introducing evidence of the conviction on direct examination.

Question

Does a defendant waive her right to appeal a ruling granting the government’s motion to introduce evidence of a prior conviction under Federal Rule of Evidence 609(a)(1), if she introduces the prior conviction while testifying on direct examination?

CONCLUSION

Yes. In a 5-4 opinion delivered by Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, the Court held that a defendant who preemptively introduces evidence of a prior conviction on direct examination may not on appeal claim that the admission of such evidence was error. Thus, federal defendants, who choose to acknowledge their prior convictions, waive the right to appeal the evidence’s admissibility. Writing for the dissenting minority, Justice David H. Souter argued, [t]here is no reason to discourage the defendant from introducing the conviction herself, as the majority’s waiver rule necessarily does.

Case Information

  • Citation: 529 US 753 (2000)
  • Argued: Mar 20, 2000
  • Decided May 22, 2000