347 F.3d 550 (3rd Cir. 2003), 01-2498, Renda v. King

Docket Nº:01-2498
Citation:347 F.3d 550
Party Name:Renda v. King
Case Date:October 16, 2003
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit

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347 F.3d 550 (3rd Cir. 2003)

Valerie RENDA


Paul KING; David B. Kelsey Paul King, Appellant in Docket No. 01-2421

Valerie Renda, Appellant in Docket No. 01-2498.

United States Court of Appeals, Third Circuit.

Nos. 01-2421, 01-2498.

October 16, 2003

Argued May 2, 2002.

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William G. Walker, (Argued), Tucson, AZ, Carol S. Rosenbloom, Carol Rosenbloom Associates, Pittsburgh, PA for Valerie Renda: Appellee in 01-2421 & Appellant in 01-2498.

D. Michael Fisher, Attorney General, Kemal Alexander Mericli (Argued), Senior Deputy Attorney General, Rodney M. Torbic, Senior Deputy Attorney General, Calvin R. Koons, Senior Deputy Attorney General, John G. Knorr, III, Chief Deputy Attorney General, Appellate Litigation Section, Office of Attorney General, Pittsburgh, PA, for Paul King: Appellant in 01-2421 & Appellee in 01-2498; and David B. Kelsey: Appellee in 01-2498.

Before ROTH and STAPLETON, Circuit Judges POLLAK, [*] District Judge.


ROTH, Circuit Judge.

In this appeal, defendant Trooper Paul King contends that the District Court abused its discretion in excluding evidence of his good character for truthfulness and that the jury's verdict against him and in favor of plaintiff Valerie Renda 1 is irreconcilable with its verdict against Renda and in favor of co-defendant Corporal David Kelsey. As discussed below, we conclude that the District Court abused its discretion in excluding evidence of King's good character for truthfulness because Renda opened the door for such evidence when she argued that King was corrupt in his conduct of an official police investigation. Since we will remand for a new trial as to Trooper King on this ground, there is no need to address his argument that the jury's verdict was inconsistent.

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Plaintiff Valerie Renda cross-appealed on the ground that the District Court abused its discretion in denying her motion to vacate the grant of summary judgment to defendants King and Kelsey on her claim that they violated her constitutional rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 by engaging in a custodial interrogation opinion without providing warnings pursuant to Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 444, 86 S.Ct. 1602, 16 L.Ed.2d 694 (1966). As discussed below, we conclude that the District Court did not abuse its discretion in denying Renda's motion to vacate. The Supreme Court's recent holding in Chavez v. Martinez, --- U.S. ----, 123 S.Ct. 1994, 155 L.Ed.2d 984 (2003) reaffirms our holding in Giuffre v. Bissell, 31 F.3d 1241 (3d Cir. 1994) that a plaintiff may not base a § 1983 claim on the mere fact that the police questioned her in custody without providing Miranda warnings when there is no claim that the plaintiff's answers were used against her at trial. 2

I. Facts and Procedural History

This case began with a domestic dispute between Renda and her boyfriend Joe Sonafelt, a Pennsylvania State Trooper. In May 1995, Renda was living with Trooper Sonafelt and their two year old son, Joe, Jr., in Lower Burrel, Pennsylvania. On May 15, Renda left Sonafelt and, together with her son went to the apartment of her friend Tina Stone. Sonafelt called the local police, claiming that Renda had abducted their son in violation of a custody order. The local police then contacted the Pennsylvania State Police. Defendant Kelsey, a Pennsylvania State Police Corporal, determined that the complaint, along with a complaint from Renda that Sonafelt had kicked her in the back on May 14, would be handled by the Pennsylvania State Police. Corporal Kelsey assigned the matter to defendant King, a Pennsylvania State Police Trooper.

Trooper King contacted Renda by telephone on the night of May 15. She told him that Sonafelt had slammed her into a wall at their residence earlier that day during an argument. Renda also indicated that she did not want to give a statement or file charges and that she wanted to be left alone. Based on Renda's allegations of domestic abuse, Trooper King conducted a tape recorded interrogation of Trooper Sonafelt at approximately 10:00 p.m. at the station house. Trooper King provided Miranda warnings, and Trooper Sonafelt waived his rights.

Despite an earlier request that the police not interview her, at 2:30 a.m. on May 16, Trooper King and Corporal Kelsey conducted an in-person interview of Renda at Stone's apartment. They did not provide Miranda warnings to Renda, but she gave them a written statement. The statement did not mention the assault of May 15 that she had reported earlier that evening. King and Kelsey both testified at trial that, when they asked Renda why she did not mention the incident, she responded that she did not include the allegation in the written statement because she had lied about it earlier on the telephone. Renda on the other hand testified at trial that the alleged May 15 assault did occur and that she never told King and Kelsey that she had lied. She testified that she did not mention the May 15 incident in the written statement because she did not want to file a complaint against Sonafelt nor did she want him to go to prison. She stated that she provided the written statement

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because King and Kelsey threatened her.

On June 7, 1995, Trooper King filed a charge of giving false reports to law enforcement authorities against Renda and obtained an arrest warrant. The local police in Altoona, Pennsylvania, arrested Renda at her place of employment. She was arraigned and bond was set at $10,000. She was incarcerated at Westmoreland County Jail until June 20, at which point she was released on her own recognizance. On August 28, 1996, the Court of Common Pleas, Westmoreland County, suppressed any statements from the morning of May 16, 1995, because defendants had not provided plaintiff Miranda warnings prior to the custodial interrogation. The case was nolle prossed by the District Attorney of Westmoreland County because of the evidence problems.

Renda then filed this § 1983 civil action alleging that King and Kelsey violated her constitutional rights under the First, Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments when they subjected her to a coercive interrogation; she also claimed that she was interrogated without Miranda warnings and subjected to an unlawful search, arrest, imprisonment, and malicious prosecution. Defendants moved for summary judgment on all of Renda's claims, except the allegation of coercive interrogation. On May 14, 1999, the District Court granted the motion on Renda's First Amendment, false arrest, false imprisonment, and Miranda warnings claims but denied the motion as to the rest. A jury trial followed on plaintiff's malicious prosecution and coerced interrogation claims. During the trial, the District Court dismissed the coerced interrogation claim. The jury returned a verdict on the malicious prosecution claim, finding against Trooper King and in favor of Renda in the amount of $80,000, and against Renda and in favor of Corporal Kelsey.

Renda then moved for relief from the judgment relating to her Miranda claim. The District Court denied the motion on July 17, 2000.

A separate trial was held on the punitive damages issue. The jury could not reach a decision, and a mistrial was declared. The District Court ordered a new trial on the punitive damages issue. On May 21, 2001, pursuant to an agreement by the parties, the District Court dismissed the punitive damages claim. Trooper King appealed, and Renda filed a cross-appeal.

II. Jurisdiction and Standard of Review

The District Court had jurisdiction over this federal civil rights action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331 and 1343. We have jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1291. While District Court interpretations of the Federal Rules of Evidence are subject to plenary review, rulings to admit or exclude evidence are reviewed for an abuse of discretion if they are based on a permissible interpretation of the Federal Rules of Evidence. See United States v. Saada, 212 F.3d 210, 220 (3d Cir. 2000). Since the issue in the present case is the District Court's application of Rule 608, rather than its interpretation of Rule 608, we review that ruling for an abuse of discretion. See Johnson v. Elk Lake School District, 283 F.3d 138, 145 n. 2 (3d Cir. 2002). We review denials of motions for relief from judgment for abuse of discretion. See Resolution Trust Corp. v. Forest Grove, 33 F.3d 284, 288 (3d Cir. 1994).

III. Discussion

1. Exclusion of Evidence Regarding Trooper King's Good Character for Truthfulness:

Generally, evidence of a person's character is not admissible for the purpose of

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proving action in conformity therewith. See Fed.R.Evid. 404(a). However, evidence of a witness's good character for truthfulness is admissible under some circumstances to show that the witness is acting in conformity with that character for truthfulness when testifying in the particular case. See id. Those circumstances are that

(1) the evidence may refer only to character for truthfulness or untruthfulness, and (2) evidence of truthful character is admissible only after the character of the witness for truthfulness has been attacked by opinion or reputation evidence or otherwise.

Fed.R.Evid. 608(a). Evidence of a witness's good character for truthfulness is not admissible absent an attack on the witness's character for truthfulness due to the cost of engaging in a fruitless "swearing match," particularly in light of the fact that a witness is presumed to tell the truth until his character for truthfulness is attacked. See 3 Christopher B. Mueller and Laird C. Kirkpatrick, Federal Evidence § 269 (2d ed.1994); 4 John Henry Wigmore, Evidence in Trials at Common Law § 1104 (Chadbourn rev.1972).

Under Rule 608(a), whether a witness's credibility has been attacked depends on the nature of the opponent's impeaching evidence. See United States v. Dring, 930 F.2d 687, 690-91 (9th Cir. 1991); 4 Wigmore § 1104. Direct...

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