United States District Court, D. Connecticut
MEMORANDUM OF DECISION GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING
IN PART MOTIONS IN LIMINE
VANESSA L. BRYANT UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE .
March 8, 2017, a federal grand jury sitting in New Haven,
Connecticut returned an indictment against Defendant Don
Meeker charging him with one count of Motor Vehicle
Carjacking in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2119. [Dkt. 1
(Indictment).] The Government has filed a motion in limine
seeking permission to offer Mr. Valentine's account of
Defendant and co-conspirator Elbert Llorens' statements
in furtherance of the conspiracy at trial on a conditional
basis, and to make a final admissibility ruling at the close
of the Government's case-in-chief. [Dkt. 40-2.] The
Defendant has consented to the admission of such statements
[Dkt. 39], and the Government's Motion [Dkt. 40-2] is
GRANTED. In addition, Defendant moved to admit evidence
regarding cooperating witness Kyle Valentine's four prior
state convictions in order to impeach Valentine. [Dkt. 35.]
The Government has consented to the admission of such
impeachment evidence, and Defendant's Motion [Dkt. 35] is
GRANTED. Finally, Defendant moves to exclude evidence of a
plan and attempt to commit a robbery prior to the instant
offense. [Dkt. 34.] The Government has opposed that motion.
[Dkt. 50.] For the reasons that follow, Defendant's
motion to exclude prior bad act evidence is DENIED.
Standard of Review
purpose of an in limine motion is to aid the trial
process by enabling the Court to rule in advance of trial on
the relevance of certain forecasted evidence, as to issues
that are definitely set for trial, without lengthy argument
at, or interruption of, the trial.” Palmieri v.
Defaria, 88 F.3d 136, 141 (2d Cir. 1996) (internal
citations omitted). “A motion in limine to
preclude evidence calls on the court to make a preliminary
determination on the admissibility of the evidence under Rule
104 of the Federal Rules of Evidence.” Highland
Capital Management, L.P. v. Schneider, 379 F.Supp.2d
461, 470 (S.D.N.Y. 2005) (internal citations omitted).
“Evidence should be excluded on a motion in
limine only when the evidence is clearly inadmissible on
all potential grounds.” Id. “A district
court's in limine ruling ‘is subject to
change when the case unfolds, particularly if the actual
testimony differs from what was contained in the . . .
proffer.'” Id. (quoting Luce v. United
States, 469 U.S. 38, 41 (1984)).
Defendant's Prior Attempted Robbery
moves to exclude evidence that on the night of the carjacking
for which Defendant was indicted in this case, Defendant, Mr.
Valentine, and Elbert Llorens planned and attempted to rob
another individual. [Dkt. 34-1.] The evidence in question is
anticipated testimony from Mr. Valentine that in the early
morning hours of January 1, 2016, Defendant and Llorens
decided to rob someone. [Dkt. 50 at 1-2.] They told Valentine
their plan and showed Valentine Defendant's gun, which
was under the driver's seat of the car Defendant was
driving. Id. Valentine agreed to participate.
Id. The three drove to a nightclub, identified a
target, and followed the intended victim outside.
Id. The intended victim got into his car and drove
away; Defendant, Llorens, and Valentine got into
Defendant's car and pursued him. Id. Defendant
subsequently ran out of gas, gave up the pursuit, and pulled
into a gas station. Id. While Defendant was pumping
gas, Llorens and Valentine identified the targets of the
offense charged in this case: two people asking for
directions. Id. Llorens offered to lead the intended
victims to their destination and got back into
Defendant's car. Id. Defendant expressed
concern, since they were likely recorded by surveillance
cameras at the gas station, but eventually agreed with the
new plan and handed Llorens his gun. Id. Defendant
led the intended victims to a secluded street and parked his
car. Id. at 3. Llorens and Valentine got out of
Defendant's car and robbed the victims. Id.
404(b) provides that “[e]vidence of a crime, wrong, or
other act is not admissible to prove a person's character
in order to show that on a particular occasion the person
acted in accordance with the character.” Fed.R.Evid.
404(b)(1). However, the court may admit such evidence
“for another purpose, such as proving motive,
opportunity, intent, preparation, plan, knowledge, identity,
absence of mistake, or lack of accident.” Fed.R.Evid.
404(b)(2). Courts in the Second Circuit follow “the
‘inclusionary' approach, which admits all
‘other act' evidence that does not serve the sole
purpose of showing the defendant's bad character and that
is neither overly prejudicial under Rule 403 nor irrelevant
under Rule 402.” United States v. Curley, 639
F.3d 50, 56 (2d Cir. 2011) (citation omitted). When reviewing
a court's decision to admit evidence under Rule 404(b),
the Second Circuit will consider “whether: (1) the
prior crimes evidence was offered for a proper purpose; (2)
the evidence was relevant to a disputed issue; (3) the
probative value of the evidence was substantially outweighed
by its potential for unfair prejudice pursuant to Rule 403;
and (4) the court administered an appropriate limiting
instruction.” Curley, 639 F.3d at 57
asserts evidence of the original plan and attempted robbery
would suggest a propensity for criminal behavior and should
be excluded as improper and prejudicial. [Dkt. 34-1 at 2-3.]
The Government responds that evidence of Defendant's
actions hours before the charged offense will be used for a
permissible purpose, to show “proof of motive,
opportunity, intent, preparation, plan, knowledge, identity,
or absence of mistake or accident.” Fed.R.Evid. 404(b).
Court finds the evidence is permissible under Rule 404(b).
The disputed evidence does not suggest that Defendant has a
character trait for robbery and acted in conformity with that
trait when committing the instant offense. Rather, the
disputed evidence is probative of precisely what is allowed
by Rule 404(b) - “motive, opportunity, intent,
preparation, plan, knowledge, identity, absence of mistake,
[and] lack of accident.” The proposed testimony is not
prior conduct but rather is part and parcel of the charged
offense. It is of the same nature as, and allegedly occurred
within hours of, the charged offense. It is also part of the
same plan or scheme: it is evidence that Meeker, Llorens, and
Valentine agreed and planned to commit a carjacking on the
night of the charged offense. In addition, it is evidence of
their motive for being together on the night in question.
Further, the evidence that their original attempt was foiled
because they ran out of gas is evidence of the
defendants' opportunity to commit the charged offense,
which began at a gas station shortly after the alleged
aborted carjacking. Evidence of the aborted attempt also
tends to show absence of mistake, namely that Meeker was
aware of the plan to carjack a vehicle when the defendants
left the gas station at the same time as the vehicle which
was later carjacked. Such evidence of prior related acts in
forming and furthering the charged conspiracy is admissible.
See, e.g., United States v. Kuthuru, 665
Fed.Appx. 34, 38 (2d Cir. 2016) (admitting evidence that
defendant improperly billed clients at her prior job even
though she knew it was wrong in order to make more money,
because the testimony tended to establish defendant's
motive in the charged fraud); Curley, 639 F.3d at 59
(admitting evidence that defendant abused his wife over the
course of many years in a trial for stalking and harassing
his wife because the earlier acts showed a pattern of
activity probative of Defendant's intent).
addition, the disputed evidence is not more prejudicial than
probative. While “any proof highly probative of guilt
is prejudicial to the interests of that defendant, ”
evidence should only be excluded under Federal Rule of
Evidence 403 if it involves “some adverse effect . . .
beyond tending to prove the fact or issue that justified its
admission into evidence.” Kuthuru, 665
Fed.Appx. at 38-39. Defendant has raised no such adverse
effect, nor can the Court discern one.While Defendant
expresses concern that Valentine's testimony may be
prompted by a hope for a lesser sentence, that concern does
not require exclusion of his testimony, but rather is a
subject for potential impeachment.
1. Defendant's Motion in Limine to prohibit evidence of
his prior bad acts ...