United States District Court, C.D. Illinois, Springfield Division
RICHARD MILLS, District Judge.
Pending before the Court is Defendant Leon Dingle Jr.'s Consolidated Motion in Limine [d/e 64]. The Government filed a Response [d/e 76] and the Defendant filed a Reply [d/e 83]. Additionally, the Court heard oral argument on the Motion at a Hearing on October 1, 2014.
Along with two other Defendants, Leon Dingle, Jr. and Karin Dingle were indicted and charged with conspiracy to commit mail fraud, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 371, 1341; mail fraud, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1341; and money laundering, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1957(a). The jury trial is set to begin on October 20, 2014.
Dr. Dingle's consolidated motion in limine pertains to a number of issues. The Government's response includes a summary of its anticipated evidence. The motion in limine seeks the exclusion of (1) any arguments appealing to jurors as taxpayers; (2) any evidence and arguments referencing former Governor Rod Blagojevich; and (3) evidence and arguments regarding allegations of Dr. Dingle's infidelity.
Because arguments that appeal to jurors' pecuniary interests are improper, see United States v. Martel, 792 F.2d 630, 637 (7th Cir. 1986), that portion of the Defendant's motion will be Allowed.
The Defendant also seeks the exclusion of any evidence and arguments referencing former Governor Rod Blagojevich and his creation of certain programs or involvement with State of Illinois grant funds. According to the Defendant, any such evidence is extremely prejudicial and must be excluded under Rule 403 of the Federal Rules of Evidence. Rule 403 provides, "The court may exclude relevant evidence if its probative value is substantially outweighed by a danger of one or more of the following: unfair prejudice, confusing the issues, misleading the jury, undue delay, wasting time, or needlessly presenting cumulative evidence."
The Defendant contends that Blagojevich's public corruption conviction and 14-year sentence are well known to Illinois citizens and would "undoubtedly influence" the jurors' decision. The Government is not asserting that Blagojevich engaged in impropriety in connection with this case. The Defendant claims that the simple mention of Blagojevich's name will prejudice the jury against Dr. Dingle, the Illinois Department of Public Health and many of the Government's witnesses. Moreover, the Defendant contends that precluding the jury from mentioning the former Governor's name would not prejudice the Government's ability to effectively present its case.
The Government asserts that the Blagojevich administration was involved in the creation of the grant programs or allocation of grant funds which are at issue in this case. This includes BASUAH (Brothers And Sisters United Against HIV/AIDS) and the Faith-Based Initiative. The Government states that in 2005, Blagojevich announced the creation of BASUAH, a social marketing program designed to reach the African-American community with education, prevention and testing. In 2007, Blagojevich announced the Faith-Based Emergency Preparedness Initiative, which leveraged federal funding to work with public entities and religious organizations to enhance preparedness against major emergencies, including natural disasters and pandemic flu outbreaks. The Illinois Department of Public Health (DPH) implemented both programs. DPH was part of the Blagojevich administration. The Government notes that he appointed the DPH directors and one of Blagojevich's deputy governors was involved with DPH in decisions pertaining to grant funding. Significantly, the Government contends Dr. Dingle had established relationships with members of the administration, including Blagojevich himself, the DPH director and its Chief of Staff. Additionally, the Government claims Dr. Dingle bragged about his relationship with Blagojevich.
The Government asserts the evidence is relevant as not only background information concerning grant programs but also Dr. Dingle's state of mind, his relationship between administration officials and whether his access to such officials was merit based.
Upon reviewing the summary of the evidence the Government anticipates presenting, the Court concludes that the evidence meets the relevancy standard articulated in Federal Rule of Evidence 401. The question under Federal Rule of Evidence 403 is whether the probative value of the evidence is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice or other concerns.
Although relevant evidence is often prejudicial, it is only unfair prejudice that requires exclusion. See Fed.R.Evid. 403; United States v. Boros, 668 F.3d 901, 909 (7th Cir. 2012). Evidence is unfairly prejudicial if it would cause the jury to decide the case on an improper or irrational basis, such as by appealing to the jury's emotions. See United States v. Miller, 688 F.3d 322, 327 (7th Cir. 2012). As the probative value of evidence increases, a court is more likely to tolerate a risk of prejudice. See Boros, 668 F.3d at 909. If the evidence has little probative value, it should not be introduced unless the risk of prejudice is even more remote. See id.
Of course, the Court recognizes there is a stigma surrounding the name and administration of Blagojevich. The Defendant suggests to simply refer to "the Governor" when discussing the creation and implementation of BASUAH and the Faith-Based initiative and prohibiting the Government from mentioning or implying that the programs came out of the Blagojevich administration. Because it does not find a significant risk of prejudice in mentioning the former Governor's name when ...