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United States v. Crawford

United States District Court, N.D. Mississippi

May 10, 2019




         Joe Crawford was charged in a superseding indictment with two counts of knowingly selling a firearm to a confidential informant who is a convicted felon, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(d). In response to a Rule 404(b) notice by the Government, Crawford moved in limine to exclude evidence that he sold firearms to two men-Derrick Williams and Darren Scott-with knowledge that the men were convicted felons. Because Crawford's prior sale of firearms to Williams may be admissible to show an organized scheme, intent to sell to a felon, and absence of mistake by Crawford, and further is not precluded by Rule 403, the motion in limine will be denied as to Williams. However, because the Government's response to the motion in limine did not address any sales to Scott by Crawford, the motion in limine will be granted as to Scott.



         Motions in limine “allow the trial court to rule in advance of trial on the admissibility and relevance of certain forecasted evidence.” Harkness v. Bauhaus U.S.A., Inc., No. 3:13-cv-129, 2015 WL 631512, at *1 (N.D. Miss. Feb. 13, 2015). Although neither the Federal Rules of Evidence nor the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure “explicitly authorize in limine rulings, the practice has developed pursuant to the district court's inherent authority to manage the course of trials.” Luce v. United States, 469 U.S. 38, 41 n.4 (1984). As is true with motions in limine in civil cases, a motion in limine in a criminal case should only be granted if the challenged evidence is shown to be inadmissible on all possible grounds. United States v. Gibson, No. 2:17-cr-126, 2018 WL 4903261, at *2 (E.D. Va. Oct. 9, 2018); see United States v. Kistner, No. 2:11-cr-283, 2013 WL 80255, at *3 (S.D. Ohio Jan. 7, 2013) (denying motion in limine where defendants “failed to demonstrate … that such evidence is ‘clearly inadmissible on all possible grounds'”) (citing Luce, 469 U.S. at 41 n.4).



         Federal Rule of Evidence 404(b) governs the admissibility of evidence of crime, wrongs, and other acts. Subsection 404(b)(1) provides that “[e]vidence of a crime, wrong, or other act is not admissible to prove a person's character in order to show that on a particular occasion the person acted in accordance with the character.” Subsection 404(b)(2), however, directs that such “evidence may be admissible for another purpose, such as proving motive, opportunity, intent, preparation, plan, knowledge, identity, absence of mistake, or lack of accident.” At the defendant's request, the prosecutor “must … provide reasonable notice of the general nature of any such evidence that the prosecutor intends to offer at trial; and … do so before trial-or during trial if the court, for good cause, excuses lack of pretrial notice.” Fed.R.Evid. 404(b)(2)(A). Once a court determines that evidence is admissible under Rule 404(b), “the only remaining question is … whether the probative value of the uncharged … evidence [is] substantially outweighed by its undue prejudice under Rule 403.” United States v. Smith, 804 F.3d 724, 736 (5th Cir. 2015).

         A. Rule 404(b)

         By its terms, Rule 404(b) contains two requirements for admissibility in a criminal case: (1) the prosecutor must have provided sufficient and timely notice of its intent to use the evidence, and (2) the evidence must be admissible for a purpose other than showing the defendant's character. See Fed. R. Evid. 404 advisory committee's note to 1991 amendments (“[T]he notice requirement serves as condition precedent to admissibility of 404(b) evidence ….”).

         1. Notice

         “Other than requiring pretrial notice, … Rule 404(b) states no specific time limits in recognition of the fact that what constitutes reasonable notice will depend largely on the circumstances of each case.” United States v. Charles, 3 F.3d 436, 1993 WL 346909, at *3 (5th Cir. Aug. 11, 1993). Cases involving multiple defendants or complex counts necessarily require more notice than simpler cases involving single defendants. Id. Generally, “two to three weeks notice [is] sufficient, but a longer period may be appropriate depending on the circumstances ….” United States v. Falkowitz, 214 F.Supp.2d 365, 393 (S.D.N.Y. 2002). Here, in this single-defendant case, the Government provided notice to Crawford approximately three weeks before trial. Accordingly, Rule 404(b)'s timeliness requirement was satisfied.

         Regarding the substance of the notice, Crawford argues the Government's notice is deficient for including “no law or analysis as to why the subject other bad acts evidence … is admissible under the … law [or] specific[ity] in time, date, or location.” The law is clear, however, that such information is not required under Rule 404(b). See United States v. Rusin, 889 F.Supp. 1035, 1036 (N.D. Ill. 1995) (rejecting request for details regarding Rule 404(b) notice). Accordingly, the Government's disclosure was sufficient to satisfy Rule 404(b)'s notice requirements.

         2. ...

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