United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania
R. BARCLAY SURRICK, District Judge.
Presently before the Court is Defendants' Motion in Limine to Preclude Plaintiff from Introducing Disposition of Criminal Charges and Results of Blood Alcohol Content Test (ECF No. 30), Plaintiff's Motion in Limine to Exclude Any and all Evidence Concerning Prior Criminal History (ECF No. 31), and Plaintiff's Motion in Limine to Exclude Any and All Evidence Concerning Encounters Between Plaintiff and Law Enforcement Post-Dating July 18, 2009 (ECF No. 34). For the following reasons, Defendants' Motion in Limine to Preclude Plaintiff from Introducing Disposition of Criminal Charges and Results of Blood Alcohol Content Test will be denied, Plaintiff's Motion in Limine to Exclude Any and all Evidence Concerning Prior Criminal History will be granted in part and denied in part, and Plaintiff's Motion in Limine to Exclude Any and All Evidence Concerning Encounters Between Plaintiff and Law Enforcement Post-Dating July 18, 2009, will be denied without prejudice.
The factual background for this Section 1983 action is set forth more fully in the Court's May 19, 2014 Memorandum granting in part and denying in part Defendants' partial motion for summary judgment (ECF Nos. 43, 44); Stroud v. Boorstein, No. 10-3355, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 69525 (E.D. Pa. May 20, 2014), and June 30, 2013 Memorandum denying Plaintiff's motion for reconsideration (ECF Nos. 54, 55); Stroud v. Boorstein, No. 10-3355, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 89240 (E.D. Pa. June 30, 2014). As a result of our summary judgment ruling, the claims remaining in this case are the excessive force claim against Defendants Ryan Boorstein, Daniel Bonham, and Andrew Ocetnik (Count 1), the deprivation of property claim against Defendant Ocetnik (Count 2), and the assault and battery claims against Defendants Boorstein, Bonham, and Ocetnik (Count 3).
On October 10, 2012, Defendants filed a Motion in Limine to Preclude Plaintiff from Introducing Disposition of Criminal Charges and Results of Blood Alcohol Content Test. (Defs.' BAC Mot., ECF No. 30.) On November 15, 2012, Plaintiff filed Responses to this Motion. (Pl.'s BAC Resp., ECF No. 40.) Also on October 10, 2012, Plaintiff filed a Motion in Limine to Exclude Any and all Evidence Concerning Prior Criminal History. (Pl.'s Crim. Hist. Mot., ECF No. 31.) Defendants filed a Response to this Motion on May 29, 2014. (Defs.' Crim. Hist. Resp., ECF No. 45.) On October 12, 2012, Plaintiff filed a Motion in Limine to Exclude Any and All Evidence Concerning Encounters between Plaintiff and Law Enforcement Post-Dating July 18, 2009. (Pl.'s Encounters Mot., ECF No. 34.) On May 29, 2014, Defendants filed a Response to this Motion. (Defs.' Encounters Resp., ECF No. 46.)
On September 9, 2014, Plaintiff's attorney, Susan B. Ayers, was permitted to withdraw as counsel for Plaintiff. (ECF No. 59.) Plaintiff was given 30 days to obtain new counsel. (ECF No. 60.) Having failed to obtain counsel within that time frame, Plaintiff now proceeds pro se. Trial in this matter is scheduled for November 10, 2014.
A. Defendants' Motion to Preclude Disposition of Criminal Charges and Results of Blood Alcohol Content Test (ECF No. 30)
Defendants seek to exclude any evidence or testimony concerning the disposition of Plaintiff's criminal charges in this matter. Plaintiff was charged with aggravated assault, simple assault, recklessly endangering another person, driving under the influence of alcohol or controlled substances, resisting arrest, harassment, and summary traffic citations. The DUI charges were withdrawn, and the aggravated assault and reckless endangerment charges were dismissed. A jury found Plaintiff not guilty of the remaining charges, except for the summary traffic violations, on which a Judge found Plaintiff guilty. Defendants contend that evidence showing that charges against Plaintiff were dismissed, or showing that Plaintiff was acquitted of other charges, is not relevant to prove claims of excessive force. Plaintiff responds that the fact that Plaintiff was found not guilty of the crimes is highly relevant because it relates directly to whether the police officers were reasonable in the amount of force they used to detain Plaintiff.
The Federal Rules of Evidence "embody a strong and undeniable preference for admitting any evidence which has the potential for assisting the trier of fact." Kannankeril v. Terminix Int'l, 128 F.3d 802, 806 (3d Cir. 1997). Evidence is relevant it if "has any tendency to make a fact more or less probable" and "the fact is of consequence in determining the action." Fed.R.Evid. 401. Under Federal Rule of Evidence 403, relevant evidence may nevertheless be excluded "if its probative value is substantially outweighed by the danger of one or more of the following: unfair prejudice, confusing of the issues, misleading the jury, undue delay, wasting time, or needlessly presenting cumulative evidence." Fed.R.Evid. 403. District courts are given "very substantial discretion" in deciding whether evidence is admissible under Rule 403. United States v. Diaz, 592 F.3d 467, 475 (3d Cir. 2010).
We are satisfied that the disposition of Plaintiff's criminal charges in this case is relevant to his civil claims for excessive force and assault and battery. Plaintiff alleges that the police officers punched and kicked him, threw him to the ground, and used a Taser gun on him. Plaintiff further alleges that this "attack" occurred while the officers were shouting aloud that Plaintiff was resisting arrest, but that Plaintiff was not resisting. One of the key elements to prove an excessive force claim is the unreasonableness of the police officer's actions in seizing the plaintiff. See Abraham v. Raso, 183 F.3d 279, 288 (3d Cir. 1999); see also Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 395 (1989) (stating that " all claims that law enforcement officers have used excessive force... in the course of an arrest, investigatory stop, or other seizure' of a free citizen should be analyzed under the Fourth Amendment and its reasonableness' standard") (emphasis in original). In considering the reasonableness of the police officers' actions, a jury may find relevant the fact that Defendant was acquitted of assault and resisting arrest charges. The jury may also find relevant the fact that a judge dismissed the aggravated assault and reckless endangerment charges. Prejudice may result to Plaintiff if a jury were to learn that he was charged with these crimes, but not hear that he was found not guilty of them. See Dull v. Conway, No. 07-307, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 96476, at *12-14 (M.D. Pa. Oct. 19, 2009) (denying the defendant's request to preclude the plaintiff from using evidence of the acquittal of his criminal charges in a subsequent Section 1983 action).
Defendants also seek to exclude Plaintiff's Blood Alcohol Content ("BAC") results. The BAC revealed that Plaintiff had a.01 blood alcohol level, well below the legal limit of.08. For similar reasons, this evidence is relevant on the issue of the police officers' reasonableness or unreasonableness during the incident in question. In our Summary Judgment Memorandum, we determined that the police officers had probable cause to arrest Plaintiff for driving under the influence of alcohol. Based on this finding, we dismissed the false arrest and malicious prosecution claims since they require proof that the arrest was made without probable cause. This determination was not based upon the BAC results, but based upon the facts and circumstances surrounding the stop and arrest. The fact that Plaintiff had a BAC level that was well below the legal limit, however, may be relevant with regard to his demeanor at the time of the incident, and the level of force that was required to detain and arrest Plaintiff. Therefore, Plaintiff will not be precluded from offering his BAC results into evidence.
B. Plaintiff's Motion to Exclude Prior Criminal History (ECF No. 31)
Plaintiff seeks to exclude any evidence of his prior criminal history. Plaintiff argues that evidence of previous arrests, including their dispositions, is irrelevant, highly prejudicial, and constitutes improper character evidence. Defendants contend that Plaintiff's prior convictions, including any statements he made about these convictions, are admissible as impeachment evidence should Plaintiff testify on certain issues at the trial in this matter. ...