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United States v. Alva

United States District Court, D. Nevada

January 3, 2018




         A grand jury has indicted Defendant James Scott Alva (“Defendant”) on four criminal counts, for the possession, receipt, transportation, and advertisement of child pornography, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 2252A(a)(5)(B); 2252A(a)(2), (b); 2252A(a)(1), (b); and 2251(d)(1)(A). (Indictment, ECF No. 1.) A jury trial is presently set for January 16, 2018.

         In view of the upcoming trial of this case, the parties have submitted evidentiary motions. Defendant seeks (1) to preclude the Government's disclosed experts from testifying altogether, or (2) to exclude the “dual role testimony” of Government expert Matt Trafford. (Def.'s Mot. Lim., ECF No. 242.) Similarly, the Government seeks to preclude Defendant from calling any witness to testify as an expert. (Gov't's Mot. Lim., ECF No. 243.)


         A motion in limine is a procedural device used to obtain an early and preliminary ruling on the admissibility of evidence. “Typically, a party makes this motion when it believes that mere mention of the evidence during trial would be highly prejudicial and could not be remedied by an instruction to disregard.” Black's Law Dictionary 1171 (10th ed. 2014). Trial judges are authorized to rule on motions in limine pursuant to their authority to manage trials. See Luce v. United States, 469 U.S. 38, 41 n. 4 (1984) (citing Fed.R.Evid. 103(c) (providing that trial should be conducted so as to “prevent inadmissible evidence from being suggested to the jury by any means”)).

         Judges have broad discretion when ruling on motions in limine. See Jenkins v. Chrysler Motors Corp., 316 F.3d 663, 664 (7th Cir. 2002). However, a motion in limine should not be used to resolve factual disputes or weigh evidence. See C&E Servs., Inc., v. Ashland, Inc., 539 F.Supp.2d 316, 323 (D.D.C. 2008). To exclude evidence on a motion in limine “the evidence must be inadmissible on all potential grounds.” See, e.g., Ind. Ins. Co. v. Gen. Elec. Co., 326 F.Supp.2d 844, 846 (N.D. Ohio 2004). “Unless evidence meets this high standard, evidentiary rulings should be deferred until trial so that questions of foundation, relevancy and potential prejudice may be resolved in proper context.” Hawthorne Partners v. AT&T Tech., Inc., 831 F.Supp. 1398, 1400 (N.D. Ill. 1993). This is because although rulings on motions in limine may save “time, costs, effort and preparation, a court is almost always better situated during the actual trial to assess the value and utility of evidence.” Wilkins v. Kmart Corp., 487 F.Supp.2d 1216, 1219 (D. Kan. 2007).

         In limine rulings are preliminary and therefore “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). “Denial of a motion in limine does not necessarily mean that all evidence contemplated by the motion will be admitted to trial. Denial merely means that without the context of trial, the court is unable to determine whether the evidence in question should be excluded.” Ind. Ins. Co., 326 F.Supp.2d at 846.

         II. ANALYSIS

         a. Untimely or Inadequate Disclosure of Expert Witnesses

         The parties' motions in limine based on the timeliness and adequacy of expert disclosures under Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure 16(a)(1)(G) and (b)(1)(C) were rendered premature by the last stipulated continuance of trial. The Joint Discovery Agreement (“JDA”) in this case, which has been in effect since February 21, 2014, requires the parties to produce expert disclosures in compliance with Rules 16(a)(1)(G) and (b)(1)(C) no later than thirty days before trial. (JDA 2, ECF No. 13.) The trial was continued by stipulation of the parties, and is now set for January 16, 2018. Accordingly, pursuant to the JDA, the deadline for the exchange of expert summaries was December 17, 2017. See also United States v. Halgat, No. 2:13-cr-239, 2014 WL 176778, at *4 (D. Nev. Jan. 13, 2014) (Dorsey, J.) (finding that, where a JDA required expert disclosures thirty days before trial, such disclosure deadline was “a free-floating target dependent entirely upon the trial date, ” which remained in effect regardless of multiple trial continuances).

         Therefore, any issues regarding the timeliness or adequacy of expert disclosures were not yet ripe at the time the motions in limine were drafted and filed. Accordingly, the Court will take up this matter at the calendar call on January 10, 2018. The Court will solicit complete and current information regarding the timing and content of the expert disclosures and issue a ruling at that time.

         b. Cumulative Testimony

         Defendant next argues, under Federal Rule of Evidence 403, that the testimony of Sergeant Carry and Mr. Trafford must be stricken as cumulative to the testimony of Detective Lara Cody, the lead investigator in Defendant's case. Under Rule 403, a court “may exclude relevant evidence if its probative value is substantially outweighed by a danger of . . . needlessly presenting cumulative evidence.”

         The Court is satisfied that the testimony of the Government's witnesses will not be needlessly cumulative. In its response, the Government clarifies that Detective Cody is not an expert in peer-to-peer networks or computer forensics, and that her training in child abuse, child exploitation, and computer forensic investigation pales in comparison to that of Sergeant Carry and Mr. Trafford. (Resp. 3, ECF No. 252 (asserting that Carry and Trafford each have over three times the experience of Detective Cody in these areas).) Moreover, the Government assures the Court that it will call each of these witnesses for ...

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