State v. Ziair T. McDaniels, unpublished opinion, App. Div. Docket No. A-0871-07T4 (September 8, 2010) – Conviction reversed.
“We reject McDaniels’ argument that the evidence of his drug dealing activities was not admissible pursuant to Rule 404(b). On the other hand, the limiting instruction delivered by the trial judge did not properly focus the jury’s attention on how the other crimes evidence could be considered as to McDaniels. Eller provided evidence not only of prior and current drug dealing but also related a conversation between the driver of Alford’s car and Alford and a statement by Alford to someone in the crowd to get his gun. The limiting instruction, however, simply referred to ‘evidence that the defendants in this matter, Lamar Alford and Ziair McDaniels may have been involved in drug dealing.’ Then the judge advised the jury that it could consider this evidence for only two purposes: identity and motive. The latter purpose is relevant to the case only with reference to the statement made by the driver, Alford’s response, and his departure from the corner armed with a gun. Yet, Eller was not allowed to identify McDaniels as the driver of the car or as the person who related that the victim had no intention of paying Alford money owed to him. Moreover, no other witness placed McDaniels in Alford’s car or even at that corner on the evening of May 22. Consequently, the limiting instruction delivered by the trial judge only partially focused the jury’s attention on the use of the other crimes evidence offered by Eller. Once the judge informed the jury that it could consider the evidence of drug dealing by defendants for the specific purpose of motive, all of the efforts to bar evidence that McDaniels was the driver of Alford’s automobile were negated…. The reference to motive in the limiting instruction directed at the manner in which the jury could consider the other crimes evidence as to both defendants overstated the evidence as to McDaniels. It had the clear capacity to produce an unjust result.”