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United States v. Mandell

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

January 27, 2014

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
STEVEN MANDELL

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

AMY J. ST. EVE, District Judge.

Defendant Steve Mandell is charged in an eight-count Superseding Indictment. In advance of trial, the government has filed various motions in limine[1]. For the reasons discussed below, the government's motions are granted without objection.

BACKGROUND

On November 1, 2012, a grand jury returned an Indictment against Steven Mandell and his co-defendant, Gary Engel, charging two counts of extortion under 18 U.S.C. § 1951(a). (R. 13.) The Court subsequently granted the government's motion to dismiss co-defendant Gary Engel from the indictment after he was found dead in his prison cell. (R. 24.)

On March 21, 2013, a grand jury returned an eight-count Superseding Indictment against Defendant. (R. 38, Sup. Ind.) The Superseding Indictment charges Defendant with conspiracy to commit kidnapping, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1201, (Count I); conspiracy and attempted extortion, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1951 (Counts Two and Three); possessing a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c) (Count Four); being a felon in possession of a firearm, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g) (Count Five); obstruction of justice, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1512 (Count Six); and murder-for-hire, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1958(a) (Counts Seven and Eight).

Count One charges Mr. Mandell with a conspiracy to extort Victim One. It alleges an elaborate scheme in which Defendant and co-conspirator Engel agreed to pose as police officers and arrest Victim One, take him to a designated location, torture and extort him, murder Victim One, and then chop Victim One's body into pieces. It specifically alleges that Defendant intended to use threats of force to get Victim One to disclose where he kept bulk cash in his residence so Mandell could steal it, and to execute legal documents that would transfer the ownership of certain real estate from Victim One to Defendant Mandell. Counts Two and Three charge Defendant with extortion and attempted extortion in connection with this conduct targeting Victim One on October 25, 2012.

Count Four charges Defendant Mandell with knowingly possessing a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence. Count Five charges Defendant with being a felon in possession of a firearm, namely, a Ruger.22 caliber pistol.

Count Six charges Defendant Mandell with obstruction of justice, stemming from his alleged use of the telephone and mail privileges after his initial court appearance on October 26, 2012. ( Id. at 5.) Counts Seven and Eight charge Defendant Mandell with murder-for-hire. These counts "concern Mandell's participation in the planned murder of a second victim" so that Mr. Mandell could take control of the revenues from an adult entertainment club. ( Id. at 18.)

LEGAL STANDARD

Trial courts have broad discretion in ruling on evidentiary issues before trial. See Jenkins v. Chrysler Motors Corp., 316 F.3d 663, 664 (7th Cir. 2002); United States v. Lillie, No. 08 CR 717, 2009 WL 3518157, at *1 (N.D. Ill. Oct. 28, 2009). "Trial courts issue rulings on motions in limine to guide the parties on what evidence it will admit later in trial." Perry v. City of Chicago, 733 F.3d 248, 252 (7th Cir. 2013). Accordingly, "[a]lthough the Federal Rules of Evidence do not explicitly authorize in limine rulings, the practice has developed pursuant to the district court's inherent authority to manage the course of trials." Luce v. United States, 469 U.S. 38, 41 n.4, 105 S.Ct. 460, 83 L.Ed.2d 443 (1984). An in limine ruling avoids delays and allows the parties an opportunity to prepare themselves and witnesses for the introduction or exclusion of the evidence at issue. See Wilson v. Williams, 182 F.3d 562, 566 (7th Cir. 1999); Jonasson v. Lutheran Child & Family Servs., 115 F.3d 436, 440 (7th Cir. 1997) ("The prudent use of the in limine motion sharpens the focus of later trial proceedings and permits the parties to focus their preparation on those matters that will be considered by the jury."); United States v. Connelly, 874 F.2d 412, 416 (7th Cir. 1989). Ultimately, an in limine motion "performs a gatekeeping function and permits the trial judge to eliminate from further consideration evidentiary submissions that clearly ought not be presented to the jury because they clearly would be inadmissible for any purpose." Jonasson, 115 F.3d at 440.

A party seeking to exclude evidence has the burden of demonstrating that the evidence is inadmissible for any purpose. United States v Brown, No. 08-cr-1009, 2011 WL 43048, at *2 (N.D. Ill. Jan. 6, 2011). Regardless of a court's initial ruling on an in limine motion, the court may adjust its ruling during the course of the trial. See Farfaras v. Citizens Bank & Tr. of Chicago, 433 F.3d 558, 565 (7th Cir. 2006) (citing Luce, 469 U.S. at 41-42). Perry, 733 F.3d at 252 ("As a trial progresses, the presiding judge remains free to alter earlier rulings."). Furthermore, the court may defer ruling on a motion in limine until trial if the parties' arguments "cannot be evaluated accurately or sufficiently... in such a procedural environment." Jonasson, 115 F.3d at 440.

ANALYSIS

I. Motion to Exclude Evidence or Argument Designed to Elicit Jury Nullification

The government moves to preclude Defendant from arguing or presenting evidence designed to invite jury nullification. Specifically, the government seeks to preclude argument or evidence in the following areas: 1) the penalties Defendant faces or the impact on his family of his conviction; 2) claims of selective or vindictive prosecution or ...


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