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United States v. Eakes

United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Paducah

April 13, 2019



         This matter is before the Court upon Plaintiff United States of America's (“the Government”) Consolidated Motion in Limine. [R. 20.] Defendant James Eakes responded. [R. 22.] This matter is ripe for adjudication. For the reasons stated herein, the Government's Consolidated Motion in Limine, [R. 20], is GRANTED IN PART AND DENIED IN PART.


         This case resulted from an altercation that occurred between James Eakes, a former corrections officer with the Fulton County Detention Center (“FCDC”), and an inmate, L.B., on August 14, 2016. [R. 1 at 1; R. 20 at 1; R. 22 at 1.] Although the parties disagree about the factual details of what happened prior to Eakes's use of a taser, they appear to agree that, at some point during the incident, Eakes used a taser on L.B. [R. 20 at 1; R. 22 at 1.] The Government contends that this constituted an act of excessive force in violation of the Eighth Amendment prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment. [R. 20 at 3.] On August 14, 2018, Eakes was indicted on one count of deprivation of rights under color of law in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 242. [R. 1 at 1.] A jury trial for this matter is scheduled on April 29, 2019. [R. 18.] Currently before the Court is the Government's Consolidated Motion in Limine. [R. 20.]


         Using the inherent authority to manage the course of trials before it, this Court may exclude irrelevant, inadmissible, or prejudicial evidence through in limine rulings. See Luce v. United States, 469 U.S. 38, 41 n.4 (1984) (citing Fed.R.Evid. 103(c)); Louzon v. Ford Motor Co., 718 F.3d 556, 561 (6th Cir. 2013). Unless such evidence is patently “inadmissible for any purpose, ” Jonasson v. Lutheran Child & Family Servs., 115 F.3d 436, 440 (7th Cir. 1997), though, the “better practice” is to defer evidentiary rulings until trial, Sperberg v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., 519 F.2d 708, 712 (6th Cir. 1975), so that “questions of foundation, relevancy and potential prejudice may be resolved in proper context, ” Gresh v. Waste Servs. of Am., Inc., 738 F.Supp.2d 702, 706 (E.D. Ky. 2010). A ruling in limine is “no more than a preliminary, or advisory, opinion.” United States v. Yannott, 42 F.3d 999, 1007 (6th Cir. 1994) (citing United States v. Luce, 713 F.2d 1236, 1239 (6th Cir. 1983), aff'd, 469 U.S. 38). Consequently, the Court may revisit its in limine rulings at any time and “for whatever reason it deems appropriate.” Id. (citing Luce, 713 F.2d at 1239).

         Evidence is “relevant” if it has “any tendency to make a fact [of consequence] more or less probable than it would be without the evidence.” Fed.R.Evid. 401. The standard for relevancy is “liberal” under the Federal Rules of Evidence. Churchwell v. Bluegrass Marine, Inc., 444 F.3d 898, 905 (6th Cir. 2006); United States v. Whittington, 455 F.3d 736, 738 (6th Cir. 2006). A piece of evidence “does not need to carry a party's evidentiary burden to be relevant; it simply has to advance the ball.” Dortch v. Fowler, 588 F.3d 396, 401 (6th Cir. 2009).

         Generally speaking, all relevant evidence is admissible. See Fed.R.Evid. 402. No. rule, however, is without exception: Even relevant evidence may be excluded “if its probative value is substantially outweighed by [the] danger of . . . unfair prejudice, confusing the issues, misleading the jury, undue delay, wasting time, or needlessly presenting cumulative evidence.” Fed.R.Evid. 403. The Court enjoys broad discretion when it decides questions of relevance and possible prejudice. See Tompkin v. Philip Morris USA, Inc., 362 F.3d 882, 897 (6th Cir. 2004).


         The Government's Consolidated Motion in Limine consists of five requested evidentiary rulings prior to trial. Altogether, the Government moves the Court to exclude:

1) any mention of potential witness L.B.'s prior convictions (other than felony convictions fewer than ten years old) and prison disciplinary history; 2) any mention of potential witness Amber Morgan's prior inadmissible convictions and irrelevant misconduct; 3) any mention of the Defendant's prior irrelevant experiences with other inmates or experience in dangerous prison working conditions; 4) any mention of FCDC's decision not to discipline or terminate the Defendant following this incident; and 5) any improper propensity/character evidence.

[R. 20 at 1.] The Court will address each request in turn.

         A. L.B.'s Criminal and Disciplinary History

         1. L.B.'s Criminal History

         Regarding L.B.'s criminal history, the Government states that both sides have agreed that L.B. may not be impeached with his “misdemeanor convictions or convictions greater than ten years old, but that he may be properly impeached by being cross-examined regarding three felony convictions from the last ten years.” [R. 20 at 4.] Furthermore, the Government states that “the parties also agree that any impeachment must be limited to the fact that the victim was convicted of three felonies and may not discuss the underlying offenses or circumstances of conviction.” [Id.] In response, Eakes appears to agree, citing Federal Rule of Evidence 609[1] for the contention that “delving into the inmate's criminal history is permissible under FRE 609 to the extent he has a felony conviction over the last ten years, whether Defendant knew about it or not.” [R. 22 at 2.] The Court agrees with the parties and acknowledges that any evidence that should be excluded under Rule 609, shall be excluded at trial.

         2. L.B.'s Disciplinary History

         Regarding L.B.'s disciplinary history as an inmate, the Government argues that “[t]hese records are not relevant to the case against the Defendant, and, even if they were relevant, are far more prejudicial than probative.” [R. 20 at 4.] In support, the Government cites to this Court's findings in Moore v. Parker, in which the Court found that the plaintiff inmate's disciplinary record had little to do with the issue of whether correctional officers used excessive force against him and, in addition, presented a distinct risk of unfair prejudice. Moore v. Parker, No. 5:13-CV-00081-TBR, 2016 WL 6871264, at *3 (W.D. Ky. Nov. 21, 2016). Therefore, the Court excluded the introduction of, and testimony relating to, the plaintiff inmate's disciplinary record. Id.

         In response, Eakes contends that the exclusion of L.B.'s disciplinary history “would effectively deny Defendant a right ...

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