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United States v. Cureton

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Southern Division, London

February 24, 2015



DANNY C. REEVES, District Judge.

Defendant Mary Cureton is charged with conspiring to distribute methamphetamine, a Schedule II controlled substance, in violation of 21 U.S.C. ยง 841(a)(1). [Record No. 8] This action is pending for consideration of the defendant's motion in limine to exclude certain evidence from being offered during the trial which is scheduled to commence on February 25, 2015. [Record No. 170] Specifically, Cureton requests that the Court prohibit admission of: (i) evidence of heroin seized from an alleged co-conspirator's residence; (ii) destroyed methamphetamine evidence; (iii) evidence of Cureton's prior charges or convictions; (iv) Cureton's recorded interview referring to the seized drugs; and (v) recorded statements referring to heroin and Cureton's prior arrest history.

Having considered the defendant's motion and the United States' response, [Record No. 173] the motion will be denied.


While the Federal Rules of Evidence do not explicitly authorize in limine rulings, the practice has developed pursuant to a district court's inherent authority to manage the course of trials. Luce v. United States, 469 U.S. 38, 41 n.4 (1984). Although a party can ask the Court to make an in limine ruling on evidentiary matters, it is within the Court's discretion to do so. In short, there is no right to an in limine ruling. Huddleston v. United States, 485 U.S. 681, 688-89 (1988). In fact, a ruling on a motion in limine is nothing more than a preliminary opinion which allows the parties to better formulate their trial strategy. United States v. Yannott, 42 F.3d 999, 1007 (6th Cir. 1994); Gresh v. Waste Servs. of America, 738 F.Supp.2d 702, 706 (E.D. Ky. 2010) ("The district judge... has the sound discretion to alter or amend a previous in limine ruling at trial."). In fact, a court may "exclude evidence in limine only when evidence is clearly inadmissible on all potential grounds." Indiana Ins. Co. v. Gen. Elec., Co., 326 F.Supp.2d 844, 846 (N.D. Ohio 2004). Unless this high standard is met, rulings will be deferred until trial. Id.

Rule 402 of the Federal Rules of Evidence sets forth the general rule that relevant evidence is admissible, subject to certain exceptions, and irrelevant evidence is not admissible. See Fed.R.Evid. 402. "Relevant evidence" is defined in Rule 401 as "evidence having any tendency to make the existence of any fact that is of consequence to the determination of the action more probable or less probable than it would be without the evidence." Both the Supreme Court and the Sixth Circuit have noted that the standard set forth in Rule 401 is a liberal one. Churchwell v. Bluegrass Marine, Inc., 444 F.3d 898, 905 (6th Cir. 2006) (citing Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharms., Inc., 509 U.S. 579, 587, 113 S.Ct. 2786, 125 L.Ed.2d 469 (1993); Hildebrand v. Bd. of Trs. of Mich. State Univ., 607 F.2d 705, 713 n.15 (6th Cir. 1979)).

However, Rule 403 of the Federal Rules of Evidence provides that relevant evidence may be excluded if its probative value is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice, confusion of the issues, or misleading the jury, or by considerations of undue delay, waste of time, or needless presentation of cumulative evidence. Fed.R.Evid. 403. Evidence is not excluded merely because it is damaging or prejudicial to a defendant's case; rather, it must be unfairly prejudicial. See United States v. Bonds, 12 F.3d 540, 567 (6th Cir. 1993). Evidence that is prejudicial only in the sense that it portrays the defendant in a negative light is not unfairly prejudicial for purposes of Rule 403. United States v. Chambers, 441 F.3d 438, 456 (6th Cir. 2006) (citing United States v. Sanders, 95 F.3d 449, 453 (6th Cir. 1996)). Moreover, to warrant exclusion, any danger of unfair prejudice posed by the evidence must substantially outweigh its probative value. Fed.R.Evid. 403. The Sixth Circuit has found this requirement significant. See Koloda v. Gen. Motors Corp., 716 F.2d 373, 378 (6th Cir. 1983). Rule 403 is not concerned with "the damage to the defendant's case that results from the legitimate probative force of the evidence; rather, it refers to evidence which tends to suggest decision on an improper basis." United States v. Mendez-Ortiz, 810 F.2d 76, 79 (6th Cir. 1986).


Cureton moves to exclude the following evidence that the United States seeks to introduce at trial: heroin seized from Tony Petrey's residence; destroyed methamphetamine and heroin; the defendant's other charges or convictions; the defendant's recorded statements referring to the methamphetamine; and the defendant's recorded statements referring to heroin and her arrest history. [Record No. 170] This evidence falls into three categories: (i) background evidence; (ii) destroyed evidence; and (iii) drug identification testimony.

A. Background Evidence

The United States has indicated its intent to introduce evidence of heroin seized from the residence of Tony Petrey, Cureton's alleged co-conspirator, on February 19, 2014. [Record No. 166] Cureton argues that evidence of the heroin is inadmissible as irrelevant because the Indictment charges Cureton only with conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine (Count 2), not conspiracy to distribute heroin (Count 3). [Record No. 8] Additionally, the defendant moves to exclude evidence or reference to any prior charges or convictions; specifically, a charge in Whitley Circuit Court Criminal Action No. 14-CR-00039. In statements taken on February 20, 2014, and February 24, 2014, the defendant makes reference to heroin and her prior arrest history. Therefore, she objects to the admissibility of those portions of the audiotapes.[1] The defendant argues that such evidence is inadmissible as "other acts" evidence under Federal Rule of Evidence 404(a) and (b). She also asserts that the prejudicial nature of the evidence outweighs it probative value under Rule 403.

The United States seeks to offer this evidence as inextricably intertwined with evidence that is relevant to the crime charged. [Record No. 173, p. 2] In limited circumstances, the government may introduce evidence of past conduct if the conduct is sufficiently tied to the presently charged offense. As the Sixth Circuit has explained:

Proper background evidence has a causal, temporal or spatial connection with the charged offense. Typically, such evidence is a prelude to the charged offense, is directly probative of the charged offense, arises from the same events as the charged offense, forms an integral part of a witness's testimony, or completes the story of the charged offense.

United States v. Marrera, 651 F.3d 453, 471 (6th Cir. 2011). When background (or res gestae ) evidence is presented in this way, it is not subject to the strictures of Rule 404(b). United ...

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