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United States v. Edwards

United States District Court, D. Montana, Billings Division

September 19, 2017




         Before the Court is Defendant Terrance Tyrell Edwards' Motions in Limine. (Doc. 163). For the reasons set forth below, the Court DENIES Edwards' motions.

         I. Legal Standard

         A motion in limine "is a procedural mechanism to limit in advance testimony or evidence in a particular area." United States v. Heller, 551 F.3d 1108, 1111 (9th Cir. 2009). District courts have broad discretion to make evidentiary rulings conducive to the conduct of a fair and orderly trial. Amarel v. Connell, 102 F.3d 1494, 1515 (9th Cir. 1996). This wide discretion includes determinations of relevancy and weighing the probative value of proffered evidence. Sprint/United Mgmt. Co. v. Mendelsohn, 552 U.S. 379, 384 (2008). "To exclude evidence on a motion in limine the evidence must be inadmissible on all potential grounds." BNSFRy. Co. v. Quad City Testing Lab., Inc., 2010 WL 4337827, at *1 (D. Mont. 2010) (citation omitted). Finally, rulings on motions in limine are provisional and "not binding on the trial judge [who] may always change [her] mind during the course of a trial." Id. (citation omitted).

         II. Motion in Limine #1

         Edwards first asks the Court to caution the government and its witnesses against referring to certain witnesses as "victims." Edwards asserts that the word "victim" is "loaded, conclusory, and sympathy-evoking, " and that it is improper vouching. (Doc. 164 at 5, 7). The government asserts that it will not refer to non-victim witnesses as victims, but that referring to victim witnesses as victims does not violate the law, is not vouching, and comports with the definition of a person directly or proximately harmed under Federal law. (Doc. 169 at 3-7).

         The Court agrees with the government. In People of Territory v. Guam, 14 F.3d 1344, 1347-48, the Ninth Circuit rejected this very same argument. There, the appellant argued that using the term "child-victim" rather than "child-witness" improperly prejudiced his defense. The Ninth Circuit found that a simple explanation from the court that the victim was the person the defendant allegedly subjected to the crime was an adequate safeguard against any potential prejudice that might flow from the word "victim." Id. at 1348 (emphasis in original). In other words, the use of the term "victim" is not prejudicial to the defendant's rights when the presentation of evidence taken as a whole clarifies the government's burden of proving all of the elements of the crime. See United States v. Washburn, 444 F.3d 1007, 1013 (8th Cir. 2006) (collecting cases).

         Also persuasive to this Court is that the term "victim" has a legal definition that describes the individual's status in the case. See 18 U.S.C. § 3771(e). Standing alone, the term does not comment on Edwards' guilt or the burden of proof. Further, using a legal term does not equate to improper vouching. The jury will not be unduly prejudiced against Edwards if the government refers to certain witnesses as victims.

         II. Motion in Limine #2

         Edwards next argues that the Court should conduct a Daubert hearing to assess FBI SA James Hardie's qualifications for his expert opinion. (Doc. 164 at 8). The government proposes to offer the expert testimony of Agent Hardie under Federal Rule of Evidence ("FRE") 702. (See Doc. 77). Agent Hardie would offer testimony about the pimp-prostitute relationship and subculture. (Id. at 3). Agent Hardie has interviewed numerous individuals involved in prostitution, including adult prostitutes and pimps. (Id. at 2) He has attended and taught several courses on sex trafficking, has previous experience as an expert; regularly attends training on the investigation of child prostitution; and has previously specialized in matters related to sex-trafficking of juveniles. (Id.).

         FRE 702 governs the introduction of expert opinion testimony. Plainly stated, "[t]estimony is admissible under [FRE] 702, if the subject matter at issue is beyond the common knowledge of the average layman, the witness has sufficient expertise, and the state of the pertinent art or scientific knowledge permits the assertion of a reasonable opinion. United States v. Winters, 729 F.2d 602, 605 (9th Cir. 1984).

         Under FRE 702, the district judge must perform a gatekeeping function to ensure that the evidence is "not only relevant, but reliable." Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharm., 509 U.S. 579 (1993). The test of reliability is a "flexible" one, and Daubert's list of specific factors neither necessarily nor solely applies to all experts or in every case. Kumho Tire Co. v. Carmichael, 526 U.S. 137, 141 (1999). As a result, FRE 702 leaves a trial judge "considerable leeway in deciding . . . how to go about determining whether particular expert testimony is reliable, " id. at 152, and whether a Daubert hearing is even required. See United States v. Alatorre, 222 F.3d 1098, 1100-02 (9th Cir. 2000) (trial courts are not compelled to conduct pretrial hearings in order to discharge the gatekeeping function under Daubert as to expert testimony).

         Here, the Court does not find that a pre-trial evidentiary hearing is necessary. The proposed expert testimony in this case regarding pimp culture and the pimp-prostitute relationship does not involve a new scientific theory or novel idea but it does require expert testimony. "By and large, the relationship between prostitutes and pimps is not the subject of common knowledge." See United States v. Brooks, 610 F.3d 1186, 1195-96 (9th Cir. 2010) (internal quotations omitted).

         The testimony is also relevant. See Id. (finding expert testimony from qualified detectives on the pimp-prostitute subculture relevant to child sex trafficking charges and assists the jury); see also United States v. Taylor,239 F.3d 994, 998 (9th Cir. 2001) (testimony reflected specialized knowledge that ...

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