United States v. Guerrier

Decision Date22 February 2021
Docket NumberCRIMINAL NO. 3:16-33
Citation521 F.Supp.3d 527
CourtU.S. District Court — Middle District of Pennsylvania
Parties UNITED STATES of America v. Caleb GUERRIER, Defendant

Robert J. O'Hara, Office of the U.S. Attorney, Scranton, PA, for United States of America.

Ingrid S. Cronin, Federal Public Defender's Office Middle District of Pennsylvania, Scranton, PA, for Defendant.

MEMORANDUM

MALACHY E. MANNION, United States District Judge

Presently before the court is the November 17, 2020 motion in limine filed by the government, pursuant to Fed.R.Evid. 608(b), to exclude the use or introduction of prior judicial statements and findings made by the district court regarding the credibility of Wilkes-Barre City Police Department Patrolman Jeffrey Ference with respect to his testimony in a suppression hearing held in an unrelated criminal case. (Doc. 205). Defendant, through his counsel, opposes the motion. (Doc. 212). For the reasons set forth below, the government's motion will be GRANTED .1

I. BACKGROUND

On April 11, 2017, a Superseding Indictment was filed against defendant charging him with the following: Count 1, Distribution of Cocaine Base (Crack), on November 7, 2013, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1) ; Count 2, Distribution of Cocaine Base (Crack), on November 13, 2013, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1) ; Count 3, Convicted Felon in Possession of Firearms, on March 20, 2014, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 922(g)(1) and 924(a)(2) ; Count 4, Possession of a Firearm with an Obliterated Serial Number, on March 20, 2014, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 922(k) and 924(a)(1)(B) ; Count 5, Possession of Cocaine Base (Crack) with Intent to Distribute, between March 28, 2014 and June 22, 2016, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1) ; and Count 6, Convicted Felon in Possession of Ammunition, between May 28, 2014 and June 22, 2016, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 922(g)(1) and 924(a)(2). (Doc. 53). The Superseding Indictment also contains a forfeiture allegation.

The government's motion in limine has been briefed. (Docs. 206 & 212). The matter is now ripe for this court's review.

The final pre-trial conference was conducted on December 11, 2020, and the trial in this case was scheduled to commence on January 11, 2021.2 (Docs. 213 & 216). The court then continued the trial which was scheduled for January 11, 2021, and then for February 8, 2021, due to the resurgence of the COVID-19 Pandemic and the issuance of new Standing Orders suspending trials until after March 1, 2021. The court then re-scheduled the trial for March 1, 2021. (Docs. 227 & 234).

II. STANDARD

"The purpose of a motion in limine is to allow the trial court to rule in advance of trial on the admissibility and relevance of certain forecasted evidence." United States v. Tartaglione , 228 F.Supp.3d 402, 406 (E.D. Pa. 2017). On a motion in limine , evidence should only be excluded "when the evidence is clearly inadmissible on all potential grounds." Id. Evidentiary rulings on motions in limine are subject to the trial judge's discretion and are therefore reviewed for an abuse of discretion. Abrams v. Lightolier, Inc. , 50 F.3d 1204, 1213 (3d Cir. 1995) ; Bernardsville Bd. of Educ. v. J.H. , 42 F.3d 149, 161 (3d Cir. 1994). "The Court is vested with broad inherent authority to manage its cases, which carries with it the discretion and authority to rule on motions in limine prior to trial." Ridolfi v. State Farm Mutual Auto. Ins. Co. , 2017 WL 3198006, *2 (M.D. Pa. July 27, 2017). Further, "[c]ourts may exercise this discretion in order to ensure that juries are not exposed to unfairly prejudicial, confusing or irrelevant evidence." Id.

"A trial court considering a motion in limine may reserve judgment until trial in order to place the motion in the appropriate factual context." United States v. Tartaglione, 228 F.Supp.3d 402, 406 (E.D. Pa. 2017). "Further, a trial court's ruling on a motion in limine is ‘subject to change when the case unfolds, particularly if actual testimony differs from what was contained in the movant's proffer.’ " Id. (quoting Luce v. United States, 469 U.S. 38, 41, 105 S.Ct. 460, 83 L.Ed.2d 443 (1984) ).

III. DISCUSSION

The government seeks to exclude, under Rule 608(b), any evidence regarding the judicial findings and the court's opinion involving the credibility of Ference in an unrelated criminal case, United States v. Gilliam, (Docket No. 3:17-CR-258) (MDPA 2017), made with respect to his testimony at a suppression hearing on August 13, 2019, conducted before the Honorable Judge Robert D. Mariani. As the government explains in its motion, (Doc. 205 at 3-4),

In Gilliam, the Court issued an order on August 7, 2020, granting the defendant's Motion to Suppress, accompanied by a Memorandum Opinion. [Doc. 103]. In the Memorandum Opinion, Judge Mariani determined that the evidence presented during the suppression hearing by the Government failed to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the officers (who included Officer Ference [and Officer Palka]) conducted the warrantless search in a manner consistent with the Fourth Amendment, explaining that "the evidence shows that the officers’ alleged assessment that a true emergency existed was neither credible nor objectively reasonable." Doc. 103 at 43. The Court stated that "A reasonable officer considering the facts ascertainable upon a reasonable investigation would not have concluded that warrantless entry was necessary to address a true emergency related to Defendant's children." Id.

Federal Rule of Evidence 608(b) pertains to the use of a witness's prior conduct for impeachment purposes and provides in pertinent part:

Specific instances of conduct of a witness, for the purposes of attacking or supporting the witness credibility ... may not be proved by extrinsic evidence. They may, however, in the discretion of the court, if probative of truthfulness or untruthfulness, be inquired into on cross-examination of the witness (1) concerning the witness’ character for truthfulness or untruthfulness...

Fed.R.Evid. 608(b).

As such, Federal Rule of Evidence 608(b), permits attacks on a witness's credibility through evidence of past untruthfulness, but it prohibits "extrinsic evidence ... to prove a specific instance[ ] of a witness's conduct in order to attack or support the witness's character for truthfulness...." United States v. Murray, 103 F.3d 310, 322 (3d Cir. 1997). See also United States v. Williams, 464 F.3d 443, 448 (3d Cir. 2006) ("The court may at its discretion permit questioning about specific instances of conduct on cross-examination, but only if the conduct is probative of the witness's character for truthfulness or untruthfulness."). "If the conduct is probative of the witness's character for truthfulness, a party may inquire of that conduct on cross-examination, but may not offer extrinsic evidence of the conduct." Andrade v. Walgreens-Optioncare, Inc., 784 F.Supp.2d 533, 536 (E.D. Pa. 2011) (emphasis original) (citing Williams, 464 F.3d at 448 ("Under Rule 608(b), specific instances of conduct of a witness, other than conviction for a crime, may not be proved at trial through extrinsic evidence ....")). Thus, "a party may ask a witness on cross-examination about a specific instance of conduct probative of that witness's character for truthfulness, but [i]f the witness denies the conduct, ... the questioning party must take the witness’ answer[.]" Id. (citations omitted).

In U.S. v. Georgiou, 777 F.3d 125, 144-45 (3d Cir. 2015), the Third Circuit discussed the exclusion of testimony and the use of extrinsic evidence to impeach a witness on cross-examination. The Third Circuit stated:

Under Rule 608(b) of the Federal Rules of Evidence, "extrinsic evidence is not admissible to prove specific instances of a witness's conduct in order to attack or support the witness's character for truthfulness." Fed.R.Evid. 608(b). Further, Federal Rule of Evidence 403 authorizes a district court to "exclude collateral matters that are likely to confuse the issues." United States v. Casoni, 950 F.2d 893, 919 (3d Cir. 1991) ; see also Fed.R.Evid. 403 ("The court may exclude relevant evidence if its probative value is substantially outweighed by a danger of ... confusing the issues ... or needlessly presenting cumulative evidence."). A matter is collateral if it is "factually unrelated to [the] case" such as an "unrelated criminal investigation." Casoni, 950 F.2d at 919. Moreover, given the District Court's "wide discretion in limiting cross-examination[,] [a] restriction will not constitute reversible error unless it is so severe as to constitute a denial of the defendant's right to confront witnesses against him and it is prejudicial to substantial rights of the defendant." Id. (quoting United States v. Adams, 759 F.2d 1099, 1100 (3d Cir. 1985) ).

Further, it is within the discretion of the district court to impose "a reasonable limit on the scope of cross-examination ... in order to ‘strike a balance between the constitutionally required opportunity to cross-examine and the need to prevent repetitive or abusive cross-examination.’ " Id. at 145 (quoting Casoni, 950 F.2d at 919 ). In fact, ("[t]he Supreme Court has said the Constitution's Confrontation Clause guarantees an opportunity for effective cross-examination, not cross-examination that is effective in whatever way and to whatever extent, the defense might wish.") Id. (quoting Casoni, 950 F.2d at 919 ).

In U.S. v. John-Baptiste, 747 F.3d 186, 60 V.I. 904, 937-38 (3d Cir. 2014), the Third Circuit stated that "[t]he Sixth Amendment gives a defendant the right to cross-examine the government's witnesses for possible bias." However, "[a] district court retains ‘wide latitude insofar as the Confrontation Clause is concerned to impose reasonable limits on such cross-examination based on concerns about ... harassment, prejudice, confusion of the issues, the witness’ safety, or interrogation that is repetitive or only marginally relevant.’ " Id. (internal...

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