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United States v. Halgat

United States District Court, D. Nevada

March 21, 2014

United States of America, Plaintiff,
v.
Jeremy Halgat, et al., Defendant.

ORDER DENYING DEFENDANT HALGAT'S MOTION FOR RECONSIDERATION OF THE ORDER DENYING DEFENDANT'S MOTIONS IN LIMINE [DKT # 134] [DOC. 153]

JENNIFER A. DORSEY, District Judge.

The Government alleges that Defendant Jeremy Halgat and other members of the Vagos Motorcycle Group were caught in a sting operation in which they provided armed security for the transfer of 10 kilograms of cocaine. See Doc. 101 at 2-3. On June 19, 2013, Halgat and his codefendants were indicted on charges of conspiracy to possess with intent to deliver a controlled substance (Count 1), and using and carrying a firearm in connection with the Count 1 charges (Count 2). Doc. 1. Trial was originally scheduled for August 20, 2013. Doc. 22. On August 2, 2013, the parties entered a Joint Discovery Agreement ("JDA") that set the expert-disclosure deadline 30 days before trial. Doc. 33. The deadline for filing pretrial motions was October 31, 2013. Docs. 50 at 3-4; 72 at 10-11; 82 at 3; 104 at 2.

Between December 28, 2013, and January 14, 2014, Halgat filed a flurry of documents consisting of motions in limine (Docs. 82, 83, 88, 101, 104), subpoenas (Docs. 91, 92, 93, 94), and discovery motions (Docs. 86, 89, 102, 103, 111). These filings were resolved in several orders. Docs. 115, 122, 134, 142.[1] In resolving the motions in limine, the Court noted that the motions were fatally late because they were filed after the October 31, 2013, pretrial-motion deadline but "reluctantly consider[ed] them on their merits." Doc. 134 at 5. On the eve of the then-scheduled January 14, 2014, trial, the Court granted a continuance, and trial is now scheduled to begin on May 7, 2014. Doc. 146. In its Order continuing trial, the Court unequivocally stated that "[t]he motions deadline expired on October 31, 2013, and is not extended by this Order." Doc. 146 at 5.

Defendant Halgat now moves to reconsider the Court's Order re: Various Pretrial Motions in part, claiming that the Court clearly erred when it (1) ruled that all motions in limine filed after the October 31, 2013, pretrial motion deadline were untimely because motions in limine do not qualify as "pretrial motions, " and (2) found that the government had timely disclosed Manual Garza as an expert witness. Doc. 153 at 1-4. Unpersuaded by Halgat's arguments, the Court denies the motion for reconsideration.

Discussion

Motions for reconsideration are not expressly authorized by the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, but trial courts in this district have customarily treated such motions as motions to alter or amend under Fed. R. Civ. Proc. 59(e).[2] Reconsideration is only warranted when: (1) the movant presents newly discovered evidence, (2) the district court committed clear error or the initial ruling was manifestly unjust, or (3) there is an intervening change in controlling law.[3] It is well recognized that reconsideration is an "extraordinary remedy, to be used sparingly in the interests of finality and conservation of judicial resources."[4] Halgat's arguments do not point to any newly discovered evidence or change in the controlling law, thus the Court's inquiry is limited to whether its prior ruling was clearly erroneous or manifestly unjust.

A. The October 31, 2013 In Limine Motions Bar

As his first argument, Halgat contends that a motion in limine is not a "pretrial motion" bound by the October 31, 2013, deadline in the JDA. Doc. 153 at 3-4. Thus, he contends, the Court erred in ruling that Halgat's in limine motions were fatally late. Id. at 4. Halgat then lists the types of motions that must be made "before trial" pursuant to both Fed. R. Crim. Proc. 12(b)(3) and Local Rule 12-1, and notes that a motion " in limine " is not among them. See id. Halgat then refers the Court to Luce v. United States , a Supreme Court case that remarked in a footnote that in limine motions are properly defined as "any motion, whether made before or during trial, to exclude anticipated prejudicial evidence before the evidence is actually offered, "[5] and United States v. Heller , a Ninth Circuit case that also stands for this proposition. Doc. 153 at 4.[6] Halgat concedes that "trial judges are authorized to rule on motions in limine pursuant to their authority to manage trials." Id. at 2-4.

Courts in this district interpret Luce to hold that a ruling on in limine motions "is entirely within the discretion of the Court, "[7] and it strains the imagination to find a circumstance where "clear error" could result from an entirely discretionary action. Halgat's argument also overlooks authoritative trial court interpretations in this District, which observe that "a court is almost always better situated during the actual trial to assess the value and utility of evidence, " such that ruling on in limine motions out of context of the actual evidentiary presentation at trial is often ill-advised.[8] Since Halgat does not indicate what in limine motions, if any, he might bring if the motions bar were lifted, the Court is unable to determine whether it would be minfestly unjust to reserve decision on any hypothetical in limine issue until trial or not.

Moreover, it is difficult for the Court to square Halgat's terminological quibbles with the definition of " in limine " he advances-as such motions are designed as a broadly applicable trial-management tool to limit testimony or evidence in a particular area. The Court's exercise of its inherent authority to manage the trial by limiting pretrial filings did not occur in a vacuum; the decision to set firm and comprehensive pretrial motion deadlines was a deliberate reaction to the rash of eleventh-hour court filings made in this particular case-of which Halgat was the principal offender. The pattern of late filings was cogently illustrated by Magistrate Judge Leen in her Order on four of Halgat's additional pretrial motions:

Defense counsel is admonished for filing these untimely motions, and warned that repeat conduct of this nature will be sanctioned. Filing pretrial motions on the eve of trial, well after the deadlines established by the court, after not only announcing ready for trial at calendar call, but also insisting that the trial not be continued, is an abusive litigation tactic. It interferes with the court's timely management of the docket. Of necessity, the court must put aside the matters of other litigants who need and deserve rulings on their matters. Late motions unnecessarily burden the court and opposing counsel. There is simply no justification for demanding "emergency" treatment of untimely filed motions at the same time insisting the trial should go forward so that the client's speedy trial rights are not violated.

Doc. 142 at 3. In light of the history of this case, it was not clear error for the Court to exercise its discretion to manage the course of this case by placing a deadline on written pretrial motions of all types. The Court declines Halgat's request to retract the ruling that motions in limine are pretrial motions subject to the JDA's hard October 31, 2013 filing deadline.

B. Expert Disclosure for Manuel Garza

Halgat also argues that the Court clearly erred by failing to recognize that the expert disclosure deadline had expired by the time the government disclosed Manuel Garza as an expert on December 8-9, 2013. Doc. 153 at 5. In calculating this deadline, the Court distinguished the nature of the expertwitness disclosure deadline (which set the deadline not on a date certain but 30 days before trial) from other date-specific pretrial deadlines, reasoning that the former "was not a date certain; it was a freefloating target dependent entirely on the trial date, " which was part of the JDA Halgat represented was "a binding agreement that must be followed by the ...


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