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Eric Lyons v. Secretary of D.O.C. Jeffrey Beard

June 15, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Magistrate Judge Carlson




In this civil action, Plaintiff Eric Lyons has brought claims against a number of Defendants, employees of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, alleging that his Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment was violated when Defendants solicited other inmates to assault him while he was held in the Special Management Unit ("SMU") during his incarceration at the State Correctional Institute at Camp Hill ("SCI-Camp Hill"). Plaintiff also alleges that Defendants used excessive force in their efforts to break up a fight between Plaintiff and Anthony Boyking, another inmate in the SMU, on June 19, 2006.

Lyons has now filed a motion in limine seeking a number of pretrial evidentiary rulings. (Doc. 131.) In the motion, Plaintiff seeks an order prohibiting Defendants from introducing evidence concerning: (1) the felony convictions of his inmate witnesses; (2) misconducts authored by Defendants against those witnesses; (3) Plaintiff's 2004 conviction of aggravated harassment; (4) certain details of Plaintiff's 2002 felony rape case and (5) DC-17X forms describing the daily activities of Plaintiff's inmate witnesses in the SMU.*fn1

Defendants have filed a brief in opposition to Plaintiff's motion. (Doc. 133.) They object to Plaintiff's request, arguing that the details of Plaintiff's 2002 felony rape prosecution and trial are necessary to defend against the conspiratorial charges that Plaintiff alleges, and that they should be permitted to use the remaining evidence at issue for impeachment purposes during cross-examination at trial.

Upon consideration of the relief sought in the motion, and the briefs filed in support and opposition thereto, the motion will be denied without prejudice to renewal of these issues at trial in accordance with the Court's instructions.


A. Evidence Regarding Past Criminal Convictions and Misconduct Records of Plaintiff's Witnesses.

Plaintiff first seeks entry of an order precluding Defendants from introducing evidence regarding the past criminal convictions and misconduct records of inmate witnesses who are expected to testify at trial. Plaintiff argues that the probative value of the evidence is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice. Defendants maintain that the evidence should be available to them at trial for impeachment purposes in service of the jury's evaluation of witness credibility.

1. Felony Convictions of Plaintiff's Witnesses.

Plaintiff witnesses James Paluch, Michael Bundy, Ahmeen Mustafa, Shawn Pressley, Telly Royster, Steven Cave, Robert Hankins, and Anthony Sides are each currently serving sentences for felony convictions ranging from robbery to first degree murder. The witnesses were all housed in the SMU at the time of the alleged incidents at issue in this action. Furthermore, two witnesses were additionally convicted of assaulting correctional officers during their incarceration.

Plaintiff argues that Defendants' use of the witnesses' past convictions for impeachment purposes should be prohibited based on Federal Rules of Evidence 403 and 404. In this regard, Plaintiff contends that the convictions have no relevance to the case at hand. He claims that evidence of the convictions should be excluded under Rule 403 because the probative value of the convictions is outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice and their introduction will lead to confusion of the issues and mislead the jury. Moreover, he claims the admission of such convictions should be denied under Rule 404(b) since the convictions are irrelevant to prove motive, opportunity, intent, preparation, plan, knowledge, identity, or absence of mistake of accident. Relying on Federal Rule of Evidence 609(b), Plaintiff also argues that all felony convictions that did not take place within the last ten years should be excluded. (Doc. 131, at 2-3.)

In response, Defendants argue that the convictions in question are probative of witnesses' truthfulness and should be available during cross-examination for purposes of impeachment. According to Defendants, the felony convictions indicate a flagrant disregard of societal norms and an increased likeliness that the witnesses might commit perjury so that this information is relevant to the jury's evaluation of the credibility of witness testimony, a central part of the case. (Doc. 133, at 6-7.) Defendants also note that the ten-year period set forth in Rule 609(b) runs not from the date of the witness's conviction, but rather from the date of the witness's release from prison, and thus does not operate to bar the introduction of any of the convictions at issue in this case. (Doc. 133, at 5.)

Federal Rule of Evidence 609 provides as follows:

(a) General rule. For the purpose of attacking the character for truthfulness of a witness,

(1) evidence that a witness other than an accused has been convicted of a crime shall be admitted, subject to Rule 403, if the crime was punishable by death or imprisonment in excess of one year under the law under which the witness was convicted, and evidence that an accused has been convicted of such a crime shall be admitted if the court determines that the probative value of admitting this evidence outweighs its prejudicial effect to the accused; and

(2) evidence that any witness has been convicted of a crime shall be admitted regardless of the punishment, if it readily can be determined that establishing the elements of the crime required proof or admission of an act of dishonesty or false statement by the witness.

(b) Time limit. Evidence of a conviction under this rule is not admissible if a period of more than ten years has elapsed since the date of the conviction or of the release of the witness from the confinement imposed for that conviction, whichever is the later date, unless the court determines, in the interests of justice, that the probative value of the conviction supported by specific facts and circumstances substantially outweighs its prejudicial effect. However, evidence of a conviction more than 10 years old as calculated herein, is not admissible unless the proponent gives to the adverse party ...

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