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United States v. Boender

March 3, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Robert M. Dow, Jr.


Before the Court is the Government's motion in limine to preclude improper argument and evidence [84]. For the reasons set forth below, the motion is granted in part and denied in part.

I. Background

The Government's motion in limine "To Preclude Improper Argument and Evidence" [84] sets out seven requested limitations on the way that Defendant Boender ("Boender") will be able to present his case to the jury. Boender's response, as a general matter, urges the denial of the Government's motion on the grounds that the motion merely sets out settled rules for trial: "[T]he defense expects that both sides are familiar with the Rules and that both sides will conduct themselves accordingly at trial." Def. Resp. at 1. The Court agrees in part with Boender, and thus some of the issues will be reserved for trial. As to other matters, the issues are ripe for decision. Individuated analysis is set forth below in Part III of this Order. The Government's motion in limine [84] is granted in part and denied in part.

II. Legal Standard

A motion in limine is a motion "at the outset" or one made "preliminarily." BLACK'S LAW DICTIONARY 803 (8th ed. 2004). The power to rule on motions in limine inheres in the Court's role in managing trials. Luce v. United States, 469 U.S. 38, 41 n.4 (1984). Motions in limine may be used to eliminate evidence "that clearly ought not be presented to the jury because [it] clearly would be inadmissible for any purpose." Jonasson v. Lutheran Child & Family Svcs., 115 F.3d 436, 440 (7th Cir. 1997) (observing that, when used properly, the motions may sharpen the issues for trial). The party seeking to exclude evidence has the burden of demonstrating that the evidence would be inadmissible for any purpose. Robenhorst v. Dematic Corp., 2008 WL 1766525, at *2 (N.D. Ill. Apr. 14, 2008).

Because motions in limine are filed before the Court has seen or heard the evidence or observed the trial unfold, rulings in limine may be subject to alteration or reconsideration during the course of trial. United States v. Connelly, 874 F.2d 412, 416 (7th Cir. 1989); see also Luce, 469 U.S. at 41-42 ("Indeed, even if nothing unexpected happens at trial, the district judge is free, in the exercise of sound judicial discretion, to alter a previous in limine ruling."). In addition, if the in limine procedural environment makes it too difficult to evaluate an evidentiary issue, it is appropriate to defer ruling until trial. Jonasson, 115 F.3d at 440 (delaying until trial may afford the judge a better opportunity to estimate the evidence's impact on the jury).

Although motions in limine typically address evidentiary matters, they may also relate to other matters, such as affirmative defenses and proper lines of inquiry at trial. See, e.g., United States v. McCloud, 590 F.3d 560, 566-68 (8th Cir. 2009) (affirming trial court's in limine ruling regarding a mistake-of-age defense); United States v. Price, 520 F.3d 753 (7th Cir. 2006) (recounting a case's procedural history).

III. Analysis

A. References to Coercion or Extortion

The Court grants the Government's motion to bar references to coercion or extortion by Defendant Boender. The Government seeks to prevent Boender from offering evidence that he was "victimized or forced by Carothers to pay for Carothers's home improvements." Pl. Mot. at 2. The Government's motion goes on to spell out why Boender should be unable, as a matter of law, to present a defense of coercion. The Government also argues that extortion is not a defense to federal program bribery and cites precedent from other courts of appeals-accordingly, the Government asks that Boender be barred from arguing that he would have been harmed financially by refusing "to provide benefits to Carothers." Pl. Mot. at 4.

Boender's response states that he does not intend to rely on either the defenses of coercion or extortion at trial. Therefore this portion of the Government's motion in limine is granted.

However, Boender says that, with respect to the federal program bribery count, "the burden is on the Government to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Boender corruptly gave Alderman Carothers a benefit intending to reward or influence a specific transaction." Def. Mem. at 2. Critically-and more specifically-Boender argues that "[e]vidence that Alderman Carothers cultivated the expectation among his constituents that they treat him obsequiously or generously is relevant to whether the alleged benefit in question was corruptly given to [Carothers] as a quid pro quo as opposed to a gratuity not rising to the level of a bribe under the statute." Id. (Boender does agree that he will not offer evidence that Boender would have been harmed had he not provided a benefit to Alderman Carothers.*fn1

The Government's reply brief protests that Boender's "concession" was no concession at all, because the evidence which Boender intends to produce is precisely that which is legally irrelevant. Pl. Reply at 1-2. The Court respectfully disagrees with the Government's position and concludes that Boender-although he may be limited in accordance with the Federal Rules of Evidence-may introduce evidence related to ...

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