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United States of America v. Darnell Boyce

October 26, 2011


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


This matter is before the Court on the Government's motions in limine [36] and Defendant Boyce's motions in limine [54]. For the reasons stated below, the Government's motion [36] is granted in part and denied in part and Defendant's motion [54] is granted.

I. Background

On March 27, 2010, Individual A placed an emergency 911 call to report a domestic dispute with Defendant Boyce. Individual A also told the police dispatcher that Boyce had a gun. When the police officers arrived at Individual A's residence, she again informed the police that Boyce had a gun. The officers later observed Boyce in the area of Individual A's residence and approached him. When Boyce saw the officers, he fled. The officers reported that while they were chasing Boyce he threw a firearm. Shortly thereafter, the officers tackled Boyce and placed him in custody. The officers also reported that they then recovered Boyce's discarded firearm, as well as ammunition in his pocket. After the police processed Boyce at the police station, he was transported to St. Bernard's Hospital to treat injuries to his face that he sustained during the course of his arrest. Boyce was charged in a two count indictment with being a felon in possession of a firearm (Count 1) and being a felon in possession of ammunition (Count 2) in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1).

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). Finally, 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. Government's Motion in Limine

A. Police Abuse

The Government moves in limine to prevent Boyce from suggesting and introducing evidence that officers used excessive force in arresting him. The Government stipulates that Boyce suffered injuries during the course of the arrest and received medical attention, but argues that the introduction of any evidence or argument as to the cause of his injuries will serve only to inflame the passions of the jury and that there is no probative value to allowing the jury to hear evidence of the cause of defendant's injuries. See, e.g., United States v. Hart, 409 F.3d 221, 223 (10th Cir. 1969) ("There is no nexus between the allegedly wrongful treatment [by the police officers] and the prosecution for the federal offenses charge . . . No confessions were obtained and no other evidence elicited from the accused as a result of this treatment."). In other words, the Government argues that any suggestion or evidence of police brutality should be prohibited under Rule 403*fn1 because it would be prejudicial and have no probative value.

Defendant counters that evidence that he was abused by the police lies at the very core of his defense. Boyce plans to argue that the beating gave the officers a motive for planting the recovered firearm. See Def. Resp./Reply at 3 ("Mr. Boyce's injuries reflect on the credibility of the arresting officer and the motivations of the officers in asserting that Mr. Boyce possessed a gun and ammunition"). Boyce relies on United States v. Ferrell, 2010 WL 3239293 (E.D. Wis. 2010), also a felon in possession case, in support of his argument. In Ferrell, the government sought to preclude evidence that, during the arrest, officers approached the defendant's car with their guns drawn. Id. at *2. The district court denied the government's motion in limine finding that:

Evidence need not bear directly on the elements of the offense in order to be relevant. Testimony about the officers' encounter with defendant, pursuant to which they allegedly recovered the gun and drugs, including the manner in which they approached his vehicle, would assist the jury in understanding and evaluating the events that immediately followed, and I assume that the government will in this case present such evidence. Id.

The Court concludes that Defendant has the better of the argument. Criminal defendants are guaranteed a "meaningful opportunity to present a complete defense." Crane v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 683, 690 (1986). Moreover, the Defendant "has the right to introduce evidence that is not directly relevant to an element of the offense, but that makes the existence or non-existence of some collateral matter somewhat more or less likely, where the collateral matter bears a sufficiently close relationship to an element of the offense." United States v. Hurn, 386 F.3d 1359, 1364 (11th Cir. 2004). This is exactly the situation here. The alleged abuse of Boyce is not relevant to an element of the alleged crime, but it is relevant to the credibility of the officers' statements and may be probative of their motive in regard to in the events that followed Boyce's arrest. See Fed. R. Evid. 404(b).*fn2 As in Ferrell, the Court rejects the Government's invitation to shut down Boyce's primary defense altogether. Therefore, the Government's motion in limine is denied insofar as it seeks to exclude the introduction of evidence by Defendant to suggest that he was mistreated during his arrest. With ...

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