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Harris v. City of Chicago

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

June 7, 2017

CITY OF CHICAGO, et al., Defendants.


          AMY J. ST. EVE, District Court Judge

         Defendants Robert Bartik, Demosthenes Balodimas, Robert Cordaro, James Kelly, Michael Landando, Anthony Noradin, and Randall Wo (collectively, “Defendants”) have moved to bar references to other lawsuits, complaint register files, or other disciplinary history events. For the following reasons, the Court, in its discretion, grants in part, denies in part as moot, and grants in part without prejudice Defendants' motion.


         This is a wrongful conviction case against eight Chicago Police Officers. Plaintiff alleges that, on October 26, 2005, a jury in the Circuit Court of Cook County convicted her of murdering her four-year-old son, Jaquari Dancy, based in large part on a false and fabricated confession elicited during 27 hours of intermittent interrogation by Chicago Police Officers. Plaintiff alleges that Defendants fabricated a police report, subjected Plaintiff to sustained and aggressive questioning, held her overnight in a cell, and ultimately elicited the false and fabricated confession, which the Defendants captured on videotape, that Plaintiff killed her son. See Harris v. Thompson, 698 F.3d 609, 612 (7th Cir. 2012). In October 2012, the Seventh Circuit overturned Plaintiff's conviction. Id. at 650. On June 17, 2013, the Cook County State's Attorney dismissed all charges against Plaintiff. Plaintiff was granted a Certificate of Innocence, pursuant to 735 Ill. Comp. Stat. 5/2-702.


         Trial courts have broad discretion in ruling on evidentiary issues before and during trial. See Bridgeview Health Care Ctr., Ltd. v. Clark, 816 F.3d 935, 939 (7th Cir. 2016); Whitfield v. Int'l Truck & Engine Corp., 755 F.3d 438, 447 (7th Cir. 2014). “Although 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). “Trial courts issue rulings on motions in limine to guide the parties on what evidence it will admit later in trial, ” and “[a]s a trial progresses, the presiding judge remains free to alter earlier rulings.” Perry v. City of Chicago, 733 F.3d 248, 252 (7th Cir. 2013). A motion in limine “is an important tool available to the trial judge to ensure the expeditious and evenhanded management of the trial proceedings” in that it “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 v. Lutheran Child & Family Servs., 115 F.3d 436, 440 (7th Cir. 1997).


         Defendants seek to bar references to other lawsuits, complaint register files, or other disciplinary history events arguing that those records would be impermissible propensity evidence under Federal Rule of Evidence 404(b). Specifically, Defendants have moved to bar the use of four complaint register files identified on Plaintiff's exhibit list three against Defendant Balodimas and one against Defendant Noradin, as well as their discipline histories.

         “Rule 404(b) prohibits the admission of evidence of other crimes, wrongs, or acts for the purpose of proving a person's character or propensity to behave in a certain way, but permits the use of this evidence for other purposes . . . such as proving motive, opportunity, intent, preparation, plan, knowledge, identity, absence of mistake, or lack of accident.” United States v. Gomez, 763 F.3d 845, 852 (7th Cir. 2014) (citing Fed.R.Evid. 404(b)). Other-act evidence is admissible if it is relevant, probative, “the evidence is sufficient for the jury to find by a preponderance of the evidence that the other act was committed, ” and is sufficiently similar and recent in light of the “specific purpose for which the other-act evidence is offered.” Gomez, 763 F.3d at 853-55.

         “Rule 404(b) is not just concerned with the ultimate conclusion, but also with the chain of reasoning that supports the non-propensity purpose for admitting the evidence.” Id. at 856 (citing United States v. Reed, 744 F.3d 519, 524-25 (7th Cir. 2014)). “In other words, the rule allows the use of other-act evidence only when its admission is supported by some propensity-free chain of reasoning.” Gomez, 763 F.3d at 856. “[T]he district court should not just ask whether the proposed other-act evidence is relevant to a non-propensity purpose but how exactly the evidence is relevant to that purpose-or more specifically, how the evidence is relevant without relying on a propensity inference.” Id. Further, if the proponent of the evidence “can make this initial showing, the district court must in every case assess whether the probative value of the other-act evidence is substantially outweighed by the risk of unfair prejudice and may exclude the evidence under Rule 403 if the risk is too great.” Id. at 860. “The court's Rule 403 balancing should take account of the extent to which the non-propensity fact for which the evidence is offered actually is at issue in the case.” Id.

         I. The Identified Complaint Register Files as Substantive Evidence

         As an initial matter, Plaintiff concedes that she does not intend to offer the complaint register files at issue as substantive evidence at trial. As such, this aspect of Defendants' motion is denied as moot. Plaintiff argues, however, that the files may be generally relevant to impeachment, to refresh a Defendant's recollection, or to attack a Defendant's credibility, bias, and motive to testify falsely. Indeed, evidence showing a witness's bias or motive to lie is relevant and generally permissible material for cross examination. United States v. Jamison, 635 F.3d 962, 965 (7th Cir. 2011) (citing United States v. Abel, 469 U.S. 45, 52 (1984) (“Bias may be induced by a witness' like, dislike, or fear of a party, or by the witness' self-interest. Proof of bias is almost always relevant because the jury, as finder of fact and weigher of credibility, has historically been entitled to assess all evidence which might bear on the accuracy and truth of a witness' testimony.”); United States v. Thompson, 359 F.3d 470, 475-480 (7th Cir. 2004); United States v. Manske, 186 F.3d 770, 777 (7th Cir. 1999)). Plaintiff does not specify how these files might be used for these purposes. If Plaintiff believes Defendants have opened the door to the use of these complaint register files for impeachment or to refresh recollections at trial, she must first raise the issue with the Court outside the presence of the jury. This aspect of Defendant's motion is granted without prejudice.

         II. Balodimas Disciplinary History

         Defendants also seek to exclude several unsustained discipline history allegations against Defendant Balodimas. Plaintiff argues that Balodimas has similar complaints of coercing confessions and refusing individuals' requests for attorneys in his disciplinary history. In February, 2001, an individual accused Balodimas of questioning him after he requested a lawyer, threatening him with physical harm if he did not cooperate with questioning, and depriving him of adequate sleep, food, and bathroom breaks during an investigation in April, 2000. In December, 2005, an individual accused Balodimas of denying him access to a public phone and an attorney and allowing him to be placed in leg irons, causing pain and discomfort, in order to induce an incriminating statement ...

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