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United States v. Vasquez

April 3, 2009

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
v.
ROBERTO VASQUEZ



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Baylson, J.

MEMORANDUM RE: MOTIONS IN LIMINE

In anticipation of trial, both the Government and Defendant Roberto Vasquez have filed motions in Limine to preclude or allow the introduction of certain evidence at trial. For the following reasons, the Government's Motion to preclude reference to the potential punishment will be granted, Defendant Vasquez's Motion under Federal Rule of Evidence 609 will be granted in part and denied in part, and the Government's Motion under Rule 404(b) will be denied.

I. Background and Procedural History

On September 2, 2008, the Government filed an Indictment charging Defendant Vasquez with having violated 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1), which prohibits a convicted felon from possessing a firearm. (Doc. 1). The Government alleged that Vasquez, on or about July 13, 2008, "knowingly possessed in and affecting interstate and foreign commerce a firearm, that is, a Taurus International, Model PT 140 Pro, .40 caliber semi-automatic pistol, serial number SAV24302, loaded with seven live rounds of ammunition"; the Government also alleged that Vasquez, prior to his possession of the firearm, had been convicted of a crime in Pennsylvania for a term exceeding one year. (Indict. at 1). Because Vasquez pleaded not guilty to the charge (Doc. 5, 13), the case is scheduled for trial on April 6, 2009.

In preparation for the trial, the Government initially filed a Motion in Limine to Prohibit Mention of Defendant Vasquez's Potential Punishment if Convicted on February 5, 2009. (Doc. 21). Vasquez has not responded to the Government's Motion. However, Vasquez filed his own Motion in Limine to Exclude Evidence of Prior Convictions Pursuant to Federal Rule of Evidence 609 on March 30, 2009, (Doc. 34), and the Government has responded. Finally, the Government filed a final Motion in Limine on April 2, 2009 to Admit Rule 404(b) Evidence. (Doc. 37).

II. Government's Motion to Preclude Mention of Potential Punishment

First, the Government moves to preclude Vasquez, Vasquez's attorney, or any witness from mentioning the potential punishment if Vasquez is convicted of the crime charged.

The issue raised by the Government arises from the unique role that the jury assumes for federal criminal proceedings.

In the federal courts, the role of the jury in a non-capital case is to determine whether the defendant is guilty or not guilty based on the evidence and the applicable rules of law. The jury is supposed to perform this role without being influenced in any way by what the consequences of its verdict might be.

United States v. Fisher, 10 F.3d 115, 121 (3d Cir. 1993). As courts attempt to minimize any influence that a potential sentence might have on the jury's verdict, "federal criminal juries are almost never instructed concerning the consequences of verdicts. On the contrary, they are often specifically instructed not to consider those consequences." Id.

Trial courts also have a "duty to limit the jury's exposure to only that which is probative and relevant and must attempt to screen from the jury any proffer that it deems irrelevant."

United States v. Romano, 849 F.2d 812, 815 (3d Cir. 1988). At least two other district court judges in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania have attempted to achieve this goal by granting motions similar to the one at hand. See United States v. White, Crim. A. No. 07-365 (E.D. Pa. Mar. 12, 2008) (Doc. 99) (Dalzell, J.); United States v. Jackson, Crim. A. No. 03-793 (E.D. Pa. Jan. 13, 2005) (Doc. 69) (Katz, S.J.). As this Court finds that precluding any reference to the punishment that Vasquez may face if the jury renders a verdict of guilty is the appropriate means of achieving this goal, this Court will grant the Government's Motion.

III. Defendant's Motion to Exclude Evidence of Prior Convictions

Next, Vasquez moves to prevent the Government from introducing any evidence relating to Vasquez's prior arrests and/or convictions under Rule 609 of the Federal Rules of Evidence. In support, Vasquez submits that he has two prior state court convictions: (1) a July 2004 misdemeanor conviction for the purchase and simple possession of a controlled substance; and (2) a January 2005 felony conviction for robbery of a motor vehicle. Analyzing ...


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