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Carvalho v. Bledsoe

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

October 8, 2019

WARDEN BRYAN BLEDSOE, et al., Defendant



         Before the court is a motion in limine filed by Dorian Christian Carvalho pursuant to Fed.R.Evid. 403 and 609, (Doc. 189), and a motion in limine filed by defendant Warden Bryan Bledsoe pursuant to Fed.R.Evid. 402 and 403, (Doc. 191).[1]


         “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. (citation omitted).

         “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) (citation omitted). “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. (citing Luce v. United States, 469 U.S. 38, 41 (1984)).

         Pursuant to Fed.R.Evid. 403, the court may exclude relevant evidence “if its probative value is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice, confusion of the issues, or misleading the jury, or by considerations of undue delay, waste of time, or needless presentation of cumulative evidence.” The Third Circuit has cautioned that the exclusion of potentially relevant evidence pursuant to Rule 403 is an “extreme measure” at the pre-trial stage. Hines v. Consol. Rail Corp., 926 F.2d 262, 274 (3d Cir. 1991). Evidence should rarely be excluded in limine pursuant to Rule 403 because “[a] court cannot fairly ascertain the potential relevance of evidence for Rule 403 purposes until it has a full record relevant to the putatively objectionable evidence.” In re Paoli R.R. Yard PCB Litig., 916 F.2d 829, 859 (3d Cir. 1999).

         Under Rule 404, character evidence is generally not admissible to prove conduct. In particular, “evidence of other crimes, wrongs, or acts is not admissible to prove the character of a person in order to show action in conformity therewith.” Fed.R.Evid. 404(b). Other crimes, wrongs or acts are admissible, however, to prove motive, opportunity, intent, preparation, and plan. Id.

         Finally, under Rule 609 governs the admissibility of a witness's prior convictions for impeachment purposes. Pursuant to Rule 609(a), for purposes of attacking the character for truthfulness of a witness, evidence that the witness has been convicted of a felony “shall be admitted, subject to Rule 403 . . . if the court determines that the probative value of admitting this evidence outweighs its prejudicial effect to the accused.” Fed.R.Evid. 609(a)(1). In analyzing conviction evidence, the court must engage in a “genuine balancing” of probative value and prejudicial effect. Tabron v. Grace, 898 F.Supp. 293, 297 (M.D.Pa. 1995). Important considerations include “the nature of the convictions, the time that has elapsed since conviction, the importance of credibility to the underlying claim, and the potential for prejudice from admitting the convictions.” Id. at 295.

         A conviction over ten years old (measured from the date of conviction or release from confinement for the conviction, whichever is later), is generally not admissible “unless the court determines, in the interests of justice, that the probative value of the conviction supported by specific facts and circumstances substantial outweighs its prejudicial effect.” Fed.R.Evid. 609(b). Thus, convictions over ten years old are only to be admitted in exceptional circumstances and the Rule 403 balancing is reversed. Whereas under Rule 403 unfair prejudice must substantially outweigh the evidence's probative value, for convictions over ten years old, the probative value of the conviction must substantially outweigh the prejudicial effect.


         a. Carvalho's Motion in Limine

         In his motion in limine, Carvalho asks that the court exclude any evidence of Carvalho's criminal convictions, sentence, or misconduct- specifically, his criminal convictions for felon in possession of a firearm, burglary, carjacking, robbery, larceny, indecent exposure, credit card fraud, and check fraud. Carvalho argues that his criminal history is irrelevant and should be excluded pursuant to Rules 402 and 403, since it does not pertain to Bledsoe's actions in restraining him, and because the risk of unfair prejudice would substantially outweigh any probative value of such evidence.

         Relatedly, Carvalho argues that his criminal convictions are inadmissible for impeachment purposes under Fed.R.Evid. 609. As to his firearm conviction, Carvalho argues that the probative value of the conviction is minimal since the conviction is over fifteen years old and because his credibility is not a key factor in the case, since much of his testimony will be supported by documentary evidence. As to his other convictions, Carvalho argues that they, too, should be excluded for impeachment purposes because he completed his imprisonment for them over ten years ago and they are not probative of his credibility.

         Although Carvalho acknowledges that his fraud conviction and potentially his larceny conviction are crimes of crimen falsi, he asserts that evidence of them should be excluded because the convictions are over ten years old and there are no facts or circumstances that would justify departure from the general presumption against use of convictions over ten years old. Carvalho's motion does not make any specific arguments as to ...

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