Rule 414 – Similar Crimes in Child-Molestation Cases

(a) Permitted Uses. In a criminal case in which a defendant is accused of child molestation, the court may admit evidence that the defendant committed any other child molestation. The evidence may be considered on any matter to which it is relevant.

(b) Disclosure to the Defendant. If the prosecutor intends to offer this evidence, the prosecutor must disclose it to the defendant, including witnesses’ statements or a summary of the expected testimony. The prosecutor must do so at least 15 days before trial or at a later time that the court allows for good cause.

(c) Effect on Other Rules. This rule does not limit the admission or consideration of evidence under any other rule.

(d) Definition of “Child” and “Child Molestation.” In this rule and Rule 415:

(1) “child” means a person below the age of 14; and

(2) “child molestation” means a crime under federal law or under state law (as “state” is defined in 18 U.S.C. § 513) involving:

(A) any conduct prohibited by 18 U.S.C. chapter 109A and committed with a child;

(B) any conduct prohibited by 18 U.S.C. chapter 110;

(C) contact between any part of the defendant’s body — or an object — and a child’s genitals or anus;

(D) contact between the defendant’s genitals or anus and any part of a child’s body;

(E) deriving sexual pleasure or gratification from inflicting death, bodily injury, or physical pain on a child; or

(F) an attempt or conspiracy to engage in conduct described in subparagraphs (A)–(E).

Summary and Explanation

Federal Rule of Evidence 414 is a specific provision in the United States Federal Rules of Evidence that deals with the admissibility of evidence in cases of child molestation. This rule is designed to address the unique challenges in prosecuting child molestation cases.

Key aspects of Rule 414 include:

  1. Admissibility of Similar Past Conduct:
    • General Principle: Rule 414 allows for the introduction of evidence that the defendant committed any other child molestation. This means that in a trial for an alleged act of child molestation, evidence of the defendant’s previous instances of similar conduct can be presented to the jury.
  2. Purpose of the Rule:
    • Demonstrating Propensity: Unlike most other crimes, where prior bad acts are not typically admissible to show a person’s character or propensity to commit the crime, Rule 414 makes an exception for child molestation cases. It is based on the understanding that evidence of past child molestation can be relevant to show a defendant’s propensity or inclination to commit such acts.
  3. Balancing Test:
    • The rule requires a balancing test to ensure that the probative value (usefulness for proving something important) of such evidence is not substantially outweighed by the risk of unfair prejudice, confusion of issues, or misleading the jury.
  4. Controversial Nature:
    • Rule 414 is somewhat controversial because it deviates from the general principle of not allowing evidence of a defendant’s character or prior actions to show action in conformity therewith on a particular occasion. Critics argue that it might prejudice the jury against the defendant, impacting the fairness of the trial.

Federal Rule of Evidence 414 permits the use of evidence regarding a defendant’s prior acts of child molestation in current child molestation cases to demonstrate the defendant’s propensity for such behavior. This rule is a significant exception to the general prohibition against using past actions to prove character or propensity in criminal cases, highlighting the seriousness and unique nature of child molestation crimes. However, this provision must be carefully balanced against the potential for unfair prejudice to the defendant.


(Added Pub. L. 103–322, title XXXII, §320935(a), Sept. 13, 1994, 108 Stat. 2136; Apr. 26, 2011, eff. Dec. 1, 2011.)

Effective Date

Rule effective July 9, 1995, see section 320935(b)–(e) of Pub. L. 103–322, set out as a note under rule 413 of these rules.

Committee Notes on Rules—2011 Amendment

The language of Rule 414 has been amended as part of the restyling of the Evidence Rules to make them more easily understood and to make style and terminology consistent throughout the rules. These changes are intended to be stylistic only. There is no intent to change any result in any ruling on evidence admissibility.

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