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United States v.

Abel
469 U.S. 45, 105 S.Ct. 465, 83 L.Ed. 450 (1984)
Abel and two other guys were arrested on suspicion of bank robbery. The other two guys
pled guilty, but Abel decided to plead innocent.
o One of the guys, Ehle, agreed to testify against Abel.
At a pretrial conference, Abel informed the court that he would attempt to impeach Ehle's
testimony with the testimony of a guy named Mills.
o Mills wasn't involved in the robbery, but had spent time in prison with Ehle.
o Mills claimed that Ehle told him that he was going to lie about Abel's
involvement in the robbery to get favorable treatment.
o The prosecution countered that if Mills testified, they would introduce evidence to
show that Abel, Mills and Ehle were all members of the Aryan rotherhood.
One of the tenants of the Aryan rotherhood is that always deny the
e!istence of the organi"ation. The prosecution hoped to get Mills to lie
under oath about the organi"ation, and thereby discredit his credibility.
At trial, Ehle testified that Abel was involved, and Mills testified that Ehle told him he
was going to lie. #hen the prosecution attempted to cross$e!amine Mills with regards to
the Aryan rotherhood, Abel ob%ected.
o Abel ob%ected to the use of the term 'Aryan rotherhood' on the grounds that it
was unduly pre%udicial. The prosecution agreed to use the term 'secret prison
organi"ation' instead.
The prosecution brought Ehle back on the stand, where he testified that because they
were all in the same 'secret prison organi"ation', it would have been 'suicide' for Ehle to
tell Mills that he was going to screw over Abel to get better treatment.
o &n the Aryan rotherhood, ratting out another member marks you for death.
The Trial 'ourt found Abel guilty of bank robbery. (e appealed.
The Appellate 'ourt reversed.
o The Appellate 'ourt found that Ehle's rebuttal testimony was admitted not %ust to
show that Mills had reason to lie to protect Abel because they were in the same
club, but also that because Mills belonged to an organi"ation that supported
per%ury, he must be lying.
)The suggestion of per%ury, based upon a group tenet, was
impermissible...Membership without more has no probative value. &t
establishes nothing about the individual's own actions, beliefs, or
veracity.)
The *+ +upreme 'ourt reversed.
o The *+ +upreme 'ourt found that evidence of Mills' and Abel's membership in
the prison gang was sufficiently probative of Mills' possible bias towards Abel to
warrant admissibility.
The 'ourt noted that FRE 401 defines relevant evidence as any evidence
having a tendency to make the determination of a fact more or less
probable. And FRE 40 says that any relevant evidence is admissible
unless specifically e!cluded.
&n this case, Mills' membership in an organi"ation that lies is not
proof that he is lying, but it is evidence that he is more likely to lie.
asically, this case showed that bias is never considered a collateral issue, it is always a
relevant issue. Therefore you can always ask a witness about it, and you can introduce
e!trinsic evidence to impeach a witness who is suspected of being biased.
o The term bias means any relationship between a party and a witness which may
lead the witness to slant, unconsciously or otherwise, the testimony. ias may be
induced by a witness, like, dislike, fear, or self$interest.