Waknin v Chamberlain – 20.06

Waknin v Chamberlain
Digest no. 20.06

Cite as: Waknin v Chamberlain, 467 Mich 329 (2002).

Appeal pending: No
Claimant: N/A
Employer: N/A
Docket no.: N/A
Date of decision: November 19, 2002

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SUPREME COURT HOLDING: A criminal conviction after trial is admissible as substantive evidence of conduct at issue in a civil case arising out of the same occurrence.

FACTS: Plaintiff Waknin brought a civil action against defendant Chamberlain for assault and battery. Defendant had been previously convicted of the assault and battery of plaintiff. The circuit court excluded evidence of defendant’s criminal conviction from the civil case on the basis of Wheelock v Eyl, 393 Mich 74 (1974), and MRE 403.

DECISION: The trial court abused its discretion in barring the admission of evidence of the defendant’s conviction by a jury.

RATIONALE: The rule of Wheelock, as it pertains to the use of evidence of a criminal conviction in subsequent civil cases, did not survive the adoption of the Michigan Rules of Evidence. MRE 403 provides that relevant evidence may be excluded if its probative value is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice. Evidence is not inadmissible simply because it is prejudicial. In every case, each party attempts to introduce evidence that causes prejudice to the other party. It is only when unfair prejudice substantially outweighs the probative value of the evidence that the evidence is excluded. In this case, defendant had an opportunity and an incentive to defend himself in the criminal proceeding. That the defendant was found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, a standard of proof greater than the preponderance of the evidence in the civil case, is highly probative evidence. Accordingly, the probative value of the evidence of the defendant’s conviction was not substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice.

The Court expressed no opinion regarding whether pleas of nolo contendere are admissible as substantive evidence in subsequent civil proceedings.

Editor’s Note: Also see Section 14 of the MES Act which indicates, in part, that decisions of a court of record which have become final “may be introduced into any proceeding involving a claim for benefits and the facts therein found and the . . .decisions therein made shall be conclusive unless substantial evidence to the contrary is introduced by or on behalf of the claimant.”

Digest Author:  Board of Review (original digest here)
Digest Updated: 1/04