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Martin v. City of Chicago

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

July 7, 2017

SHERARD MARTIN, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF CHICAGO, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          AMY J. ST. EVE U.S. District Court Judge.

         Before the Court are Plaintiff Sherard Martin's ("Martin") motions in limine as well as the motions in limine of Defendants the City of Chicago (the "City") and Chicago Police Department ("CPD") Officers Davis Marinez, Sofia Gonzalez (Arellano), [1] Armando Chagoya, and Elvis Turcinovic (collectively, "Defendants"). (R. 61; R. 63.) The Court has previously granted, based on the parties' agreement, Defendants' motions in limine numbers 8-10 and Martin's motions in limine numbers 1-2. (R. 71.) With respect to the disputed motions, the Court grants and denies them in part, and takes under advisement all issues not resolved in this opinion.

         BACKGROUND

         At 7:00 PM on May 24, 2013, Officers Marinez and Gonzalez pulled Martin over near the intersection of E. 90th Street and S. Burley Avenue in Chicago, allegedly because Martin's taillights and brake lights were not working. (R. 38, Rule 56.1(a)(3) Stmt. Facts, ¶ 6 & n.3.)[2]After Martin failed to produce his license upon Officer Gonzalez's request, claiming he "had [it] taken for a ticket, " Officers Gonzalez and Marinez asked Martin to step out of his car, at which point Officers Turcinovic and Chagoya arrived. (Id. at ¶¶ 7-8.)

         According to Martin, the officers forced him out of his car, handcuffed him, conducted a pat-down search of his person, placed him inside a police vehicle, and searched his car. (Id. at ¶ 9.)[3] During the search, the officers recovered a 9 mm semiautomatic handgun and a plastic baggie containing crack cocaine. (Id. at ¶ 10.) On the scene, Officer Marinez noticed that the serial number on the handgun had been defaced. (Id.) After transporting Martin to the police station for processing, Officer Marinez discovered that Martin had prior felony convictions. (Id. at ¶¶ 11-12.)

         Martin was transferred to the Cook County Jail and charged with four felonies: (i) being an armed habitual criminal in violation of 720 ILCS 5/24-1.7(a); (ii) being a convicted felon in possession of a firearm in violation of 720 ILCS 5/24-1.1 (a); (iii) being in possession of a firearm with a defaced serial number in violation of 720 ILCS 5/24-5(b); and (iv) being in possession of cocaine in violation of 720 ILCS 570/402. (Id. at ¶¶ 11, 13.) He also received traffic citations pursuant to Chicago Municipal Code § 9-76-050 (relating to the operation of taillights) and 625 ILCS 5/6-112 (relating to the requirement to carry a driver's license). (Id. at ¶ 13.) He was incarcerated from May 24, 2013 through July 29, 2013 in connection with his May 24, 2013 arrest. (Id. at ¶ 14.) During state-court criminal proceedings, Martin filed a motion to suppress, which the trial court granted in November 2014. (Id.) As a result, the State dismissed the charges through a nolle prosequi motion. (Id.)

         On May 24, 2015, Martin commenced this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging false arrest (Count I), unlawful search (Count II), and indemnification under state law against the City (Count III). (R. 1.) Before the Court granted summary judgment in part to Defendants, Martin sought $65, 000 in damages for his incarceration and $45, 500 in lost business income in relation to his automobile dealership. (R. 38 at ¶ 15.)

         Defendants moved for partial summary judgment on August 23, 2016, arguing that Martin "c[ould] not proceed on any claims related to the Defendant Officers' conduct after their discovery of the contraband, " which supplied the officers with probable cause. (R. 37, Opening Br., 2, 8-9.) Defendants conceded that Martin "c[ould] . . . proceed on his claim related to his brief detention on [the] scene before the handgun and drugs were found, the search of his person, and the search of his vehicle." (Id. at 9.) The Court agreed with Defendants in its January 2017 opinion. (R. 56 at 4-5.) In granting Defendants' partial summary judgment, the Court made clear that "Martin's Section 1983 case may proceed as to the initial stop and search of his person and car on May 24, 2013-before Defendants' discovery of the illegal firearm and crack cocaine." (Id. at 16.) Martin also has a false arrest claim based on his detention until Defendants found the firearm.

         LEGAL STANDARD

         I. Motions in Limine

         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 (1984); see also Dietz v. Bouldin, 136 S.Ct. 1885, 1891 (2016) ("The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure set out many of the specific powers of a federal district court, " but "they are not all encompassing, " for example, they make no provision "for the power of a judge to hear a motion in limine''). "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). It is well-established that a motion in limine "is an important tool available to the trial judge to ensure the expeditious and evenhanded management of the trial proceedings" and 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).

         II. Federal Rules of Evidence

         Pursuant to Federal Rule of Evidence 401, evidence is relevant if "it has any tendency to make a fact more or less probable than it would be without the evidence" and "the fact is of consequence in determining the action." Fed.R.Evid. 401; United States v. Boros, 668 F.3d 901, 907 (7th Cir. 2012). In short, Rule 401 defines relevance broadly. See United States v. Boswell, 772 F.3d 469, 475 (7th Cir. 2014). Rule 402 "provides the corollary that, with certain exceptions, '[r]elevant evidence is admissible' and '[i]rrelevant evidence is not admissible.'" Boros, 668 F.3d at 907. The Court, however, 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." Fed.R.Evid. 403. When considering Rule 403, courts use "a sliding scale approach: as the probative value increases, so does our tolerance of the risk of prejudice." Whitehead v. Bond, 680 F.3d 919, 930 (7th Cir. 2012). "Evidence is unduly prejudicial if it creates a genuine risk that the emotions of the jury will be excited to irrational behavior, and the risk is disproportionate to the probative value of the offered evidence." Morgan v. City of Chicago, 822 F.3d 317, 339 (7th Cir. 2016) (citation omitted).

         ANALYSIS

         I. Martin's Motions in Limine

         A. Motion in Limine #3: Barring Admission of Martin's Prior Arrests and Convictions for the Purposes of Cross-Examination or for Any Other Purpose

         Martin seeks to bar any references to his prior arrests, accusations, charges, or convictions, including convictions for being an armed habitual criminal, being a felon in possession of a firearm, and first-degree murder. (R. 63, PL's Mot. in Limine, 2; R. 69, Defs.' Responses, 1-2.)

         The Court first addresses areas where the parties are in agreement. First, Defendants indicate that they "do not intend to present evidence regarding [Plaintiffs] prior arrests that did not result in convictions as a prior bad act or to make a showing that Plaintiff has a propensity to commit a crime." (R. 69 at 4.) While it appears at one point in their brief that Defendants seek to introduce evidence of all prior arrests because they "are relevant to his damages, " (id. at 5), they later clarify that they are limiting their request to arrests that led to convictions, (see Id. at 6 ("Defendants should be allowed to introduce evidence relating to Plaintiffs past arrests and subsequent convictions to rebut his claim for damages." (emphasis added)).) Accordingly, the Court grants Martin's motion with respect to references to past arrests that did not lead to convictions.

         Second, Defendants have not indicated that they intend to impeach Martin with evidence of his murder conviction. (Id. at 2-6.) The Court therefore grants Martin's motion to the extent he seeks to bar Defendants' from referencing his murder conviction for impeachment purposes.

         From what the Court can discern from the parties' filings, the parties dispute the admissibility of two convictions: a 2007 conviction for being a felon in possession of a firearm and a 2013 conviction for being an armed habitual criminal.[4] Defendants seek to admit evidence of both of these convictions under Rule 609. Under Rule 609(a)(1)(A), when a party wishes to attack a witness's character for truthfulness, evidence of a conviction for a crime punishable by imprisonment for more than a year "must be admitted, subject to Rule 403, in a civil case or in a criminal case in which the witness is not a defendant." If, however, "10 years have passed since the witness's conviction or release from confinement, whichever is later, " the evidence of the conviction is only admissible, if, among other factors, "its probative value, supported by specific facts and circumstances, substantially outweighs its prejudicial effect." Fed.R.Evid. 609(b)(1). Here, the parties do not dispute that the two convictions and accompanying release dates from custody do not trigger Rule 609(b), so the Court's analysis turns on Rule 403.

         In criminal cases, the Seventh Circuit has identified five considerations for weighing probative value against prejudicial effect: "(1) the impeachment value of the prior crime; (2) the point in time of the conviction and the defendant's subsequent history; (3) the similarity between the past crime and the charged crime; (4) the importance of the defendant's testimony; and (5) the centrality of the credibility issue." United States v. Montgomery, 390 F.3d 1013, 1015 (7th Cir. 2004) (citing United States v. Mahone, 537 F.2d 922, 929 (7th Cir. 1976); Smith v. Nurse, No. 14-cv-5514, 2016 WL 4539698, at *3 (N.D. Ill. Aug. 31, 2016); Buchanan v. McCann, No. 08 C 7063, 2012 WL 1987917, at *1 (N.D. Ill. June 4, 2012); Hill v. City of Chicago, No. 06 C 6772, 2011 WL 2637214, at *1 (N.D. Ill. June 6, 2011). "While not all of those factors will apply in civil cases, the same general concerns may illuminate the court's analysis." Buchanan, 2012 WL 1987917, at *1. Courts have broad discretion under Rule 403. Anderson v. City of Chicago, No. 09 C 2311, 2010 WL 4928875, at *1 (N.D. Ill. Nov. 30, 2010) (citing Jenkins v. Chrysler Motors Corp., 316 F.3d 663, 664 (7th Cir. 2002)). They should take care, however, "to ensure that a civil rights plaintiffs criminal past is not being used to unfairly prejudice him or her." Id. (quoting Gorav. Costa, 971 F.2d 1325, 1331 (7th Cir. 1992)).

         The first factor weighs against admissibility because Martin's prior convictions are not especially probative of truthfulness. See Patterson v. City of Chicago, No. 15-cv-4139, 2017 WL 770991, at *8 (N.D. Ill. Feb. 28, 2017) ("[U]nlawful use of a weapon . . . ha[s] little to do with truthfulness."); see also Ellis v. Country Club Hills, No. 06 C 1895, 2011 WL 6001148, at *3-4 & n.2 (N.D. Ill.Dec. 1, 2011); cf Barber v. City of Chicago, 725 F.3d 702, 714-15 (7th Cir. 2013) ("A felony conviction for possession of stolen property (or possession of a stolen motor vehicle) is not a crime of dishonesty per se but it is more probative of dishonesty than other crimes, like murder or assault." (citations omitted)). The second factor is not particularly compelling for Defendants given that Martin's older conviction is more than ten years old and his other conviction, while not exceedingly old, is not especially recent either.

         The third factor weighs against admission. While the past convictions are unlike a traffic violation, the jury will likely hear that Martin had a gun on the day in question. This creates a risk that the jury will see Martin as a danger to society, which could unfairly prejudice him in the current case.

         The last two factors weigh in favor of admission because Martin's testimony is critical to his case, and his credibility is crucial for a jury to assess his testimony. See United States v. Gant,396 F.3d 906, 910 (7th Cir. 2005) (noting the importance of credibility when one party-witness's testimony ...


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