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United States v. Benzer

United States District Court, D. Nevada

September 26, 2014

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff(s),
v.
LEON BENZER, et al., Defendant(s)

ORDER

JAMES C. MAHAN, District Judge.

Presently before the court is the government's motion in limine to admit evidence of other acts by defendant David Ball (hereinafter "defendant") pursuant to Federal Rule of Evidence 404(b). (Doc. # 336). Defendant did not file a response, and the deadline to respond has now passed.

I. Background

The facts of the instant case are familiar to the court. Defendant Ball and his co-defendants are accused of participating in a scheme to take over homeowners association ("HOA") boards to fraudulently obtain legal work and construction contracts. (Doc. # 336).

Defendant allegedly acted as a straw purchaser in the conspiracy. The government claims that he misrepresented his source of financing to obtain a mortgage on a condominium in one of the targeted communities. (Doc. # 336). After the condominium purchase, defendant secured a spot on the HOA board and supposedly "used his position to advance the goals of the conspiracy." (Doc. # 336).

In the instant motion, the government seeks a ruling on the admissibility of other acts evidence. In particular, the government contends that evidence of defendant's false statements in a financial affidavit he filed with the court are admissible to show absence of mistake regarding the alleged mortgage misrepresentations.

II. Legal Standard

A. Motions in limine

"The court must decide any preliminary question about whether... evidence is admissible." Fed.R.Evid. 104. Motions in limine are procedural mechanisms by which the court can make evidentiary rulings in advance of trial, often to preclude the use of unfairly prejudicial evidence. United States v. Heller, 551 F.3d 1108, 1111-12 (9th Cir. 2009); Brodit v. Cambra, 350 F.3d 985, 1004-05 (9th Cir. 2003).

"Although the Federal Rules of Evidence do not 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 (1980). Motions in limine may be used to exclude or admit evidence in advance of trial. See Fed.R.Evid. 103; United States v. Williams, 939 F.2d 721, 723 (9th Cir. 1991) (affirming district court's ruling in limine that prosecution could admit impeachment evidence under federal rule of evidence 609).

Judges have broad discretion when ruling on motions in limine. See Jenkins v. Chrysler Motors Corp., 316 F.3d 663, 664 (7th Cir. 2002); see also Trevino v. Gates, 99 F.3d 911, 922 (9th Cir. 1999) ("The district court has considerable latitude in performing a Rule 403 balancing test and we will uphold its decision absent clear abuse of discretion.").

"[I]n limine rulings are not binding on the trial judge [who] may always change his mind during the course of a trial." Ohler v. United States, 529 U.S. 753, 758 n.3 (2000); accord Luce, 469 U.S. at 41 (noting that in limine rulings are always subject to change, especially if the evidence unfolds in an unanticipated manner).

B. Other acts evidence

Federal Rule of Evidence 404(b)(1) states 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." Fed.R.Evid. 404(b)(1). However, rule 404(b)(2) allows introduction of such evidence ...


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