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United States v. Parks

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Central Division, Lexington

April 17, 2017




         Curtis Parks stands accused of a single count of harboring or concealing a fugitive in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1071. [Record No. 7] Parks acted as a driver for Samuel Girod, a member of the Amish community in Bath County, Kentucky, and is alleged to have done so while Girod was subject to an arrest warrant issued by this Court. [Record No. 1-1; see Lexington Criminal Action No. 5: 15-87-DCR] Despite knowledge of the warrant, Parks is accused of taking certain actions to help Girod evade capture.

         I. Defendant’s Argument

         Parks has moved in limine to exclude from trial any evidence identifying the underlying charges faced by Girod. [Record No. 33] Parks argues that, while he was aware that Girod had an outstanding warrant, “his knowledge was that the offense related to ‘chic weed.’” [Id. at 2] Further, because “[t]here is no requirement that the defendant know the reason for the warrant or the charges to which the warrant relates,” Parks wishes to exclude that information. [Id.] Parks believes that mention of Girod’s charges of “‘obstruction’ and/or ‘intimidation’” could be prejudicial “to a great degree” to the jury’s perception of whether he assisted Girod with the intent of helping him avoid his arrest. [Id. at 3] Accordingly, Parks seeks a limiting instruction that evidence of Girod’s outstanding warrant be limited to the fact of the warrant, with any mention of the underlying charges barred.

The defendant also seeks to exclude any mention of the fact that he was carrying a concealed weapon at the time of his apprehension. [Record No. 33 at 3] Parks argues that he is a responsible gun owner, trained and educated in proper gun care, ownership and handling, and that he was properly licensed to carry and conceal the firearm.[*] [Id.] Parks contends “there was certainly no criminal intent behind his ownership and concealing of the gun,” and “[t]here is no evidence the gun was ever brandished, used to threaten[,] or has any relation whatsoever to the offense[,] other than it was on the Defendant’s person at the time of arrest.” [Id. at 3-4]

         II. Government’s Response

         The United States opposes Parks’s motion. [Record No. 34] Regarding the underlying charges faced by Girod, it argues that explaining the nature of those charges “is plainly relevant to the case.” [Id. at 1] Specifically, Girod’s charges are relevant and properly admissible as background evidence-“the general nature of the charges that prompted Mr. Girod to flee is a natural part of the story.” [Id. at 2] Further, the government believes that Girod’s twelve-count indictment, including three obstruction of justice charges, is relevant to the defendant’s “intent and motive in providing assistance to Mr. Girod.” [Id. at 2] And because the conduct at issue relates to a third party, rather than the defendant himself, the government believes that concern of unfair prejudice under Rule 403 of the Federal Rules of Evidence is minimal.

         With respect to Parks’s firearm possession, the United States argues that an individual’s “[decision] to carry a weapon-even if legally permitted to do so-while transporting a known federal fugitive, is potentially relevant to a charge under 18 U.S.C. § 1071[.]” [Id. at 3] Particularly, the defendant’s carrying of a firearm may be relevant to his intent. [Id.] Nonetheless, the United States does not plan to introduce evidence of the firearm in the defendant’s possession unless Parks testifies, in which case it may cross-examine him regarding his habits of carrying the firearm. [Id.] The government believes that any unfair prejudice will be minimal because the firearm was lawfully possessed. [Id.] The United States has the better arguments under the facts presented. Therefore, the defendant’s motion will be denied.

         III. Discussion

         a. Underlying Charges

         Under Rule 401 of the Federal Rules of Evidence, 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.” Under the rule, the underlying charges faced by Girod are relevant. Specifically, a conviction under 18 U.S.C. §1071 requires proof of a defendant’s intent. The fugitive’s underlying charges are relevant to establish Parks’s intent and motive. See United States v. Robinson, 908 F. Supp. 2d 753');">908 F. Supp. 2d 753, 759 (W.D. Va. 2012) (“The nature and severity of the underlying charges is probative of their intent and motive in their behavior towards [the fugitive].”). Parks’s willingness to stipulate to the existence of a warrant does not mitigate that relevance. See Id. (“[T]he nature of the warrant in the present case has probative value beyond the mere fact of the warrant’s existence.”). In short, Girod’s charges “complete[] the story of the charged offense.” United States v. Hardy, 228 F.3d 745, 748 (6th Cir. 2000) (discussing admissibility of relevant background information); see also United States v. Marrero, 651 F.3d 453, 471 (6th Cir. 2011) (applying Hardy). This is especially true, as the United States points out, because evidence at trial is expected to show that Parks made comments to law enforcement officers about the merits of the underlying case against Girod. [Record No. 34 at 2]

         Notwithstanding the relevance of this evidence, it may still be excluded. Rule 403 provides that 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.” Parks believes that the mention of Girod’s “‘obstruction’ and/or ‘intimidation’” charges could be prejudicial “to a great degree” and, therefore, should be excluded. [Record No. 33 at 3] The Court disagrees.

         The underlying conduct of a third party does typically raise a heightened concern under Rule 403. See Robinson, 908 F. Supp. 2d at 759 (“The criminal conduct at issue in the present case is that of a third party and therefore does not raise the same concerns about the introduction of improper and unfair character evidence against these defendants.”). Moreover, as the United States argues, misbranding and obstruction of justice do not carry the same concerns of unfair prejudice as, for example, narcotics offenses or crimes of violence. All things considered, any possible prejudice does not substantially outweigh the evidence’s probative value.

         b. ...

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