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United States v. Ojimba

United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma

April 23, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
NNAMDI FRANKLIN OJIMBA, Defendant.

          ORDER

          TIMOTHY D. DeGIUSTI UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Before the Court are Defendant's motions in limine: (1) to Exclude the Testimony of Hill Feinberg and Pamela Bale [Doc. No. 70]; and (2) to Admit Evidence of Acquittals [Doc. No. 71]. The government has responded. The matter is fully briefed and at issue.

         BACKGROUND

         This matter stems from a prior criminal case in which the government alleged Ken Ezeah and Akunna Ejiofor created a scheme to commit identity theft and wire fraud. In sum, the defendants were alleged to have set up various online dating profiles using false information, formed online relationships with several women, and then persuaded those women to wire money by promising to manage their money and investments. Ezeah subsequently pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud. Ejiofor opted to go to trial, where a jury found her guilty on all counts.

         Here, Defendant was similarly indicted and tried for conspiracy to commit wire fraud (Count 1), aggravated identity theft (Count 2), and wire fraud (Counts 3-4) in October 2018. On October 11, 2018, the jury acquitted Mr. Ojimba on Counts 2-4 and a mistrial was declared as to Count 1. The government filed an Advisement to the Court [Doc. No. 67] on November 16, 2018, of its intent to retry Mr. Ojimba on Count 1, conspiracy to commit wire fraud.

         Addressed in this Order are two motions in limine filed by Defendant. First, Defendant moves to preclude the government from calling Pamela Bale and Hill Feinberg as witnesses based on his acquittals. Second, Defendant seeks to admit evidence of his prior acquittals in this case.

         STANDARD

         “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. 16, 105 S.Ct. 460, 463, 83 L.Ed.2d 443 (1984) (citing Fed.R.Evid. 103(c); cf. Fed. R. C. P. 12(e)). As such, “[t]he purpose of a motion in limine is to aid the trial process by enabling the Court to rule in advance of trial on the relevance of certain forecasted evidence, as to issues that are definitely set for trial, without lengthy argument at, or interruption of, the trial.” Mendelsohn v. Sprint/United Mgmt. Co., 587 F.Supp.2d 1201, 1208 (D. Kan. 2008) aff'd, 402 Fed.Appx. 337 (10th Cir. 2010) (internal quotations omitted).

         Despite these streamlining benefits, “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 order to exclude evidence on a motion in limine “the evidence must be inadmissible on all potential grounds.” 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). However, “the district court may change its ruling at any time for whatever reason it deems appropriate.” Jones v. Stotts, 59 F.3d 143, 146 (10th Cir. 1995) (citations omitted); see also Luce, 469 U.S. at 41 (“The ruling is subject to change when the case unfolds … [E]ven if nothing unexpected happens at trial, the district judge is free, in the exercise of sound judicial discretion, to alter a previous in limine ruling.”).

         DISCUSSION

         I. Testimony of Hill Feinberg and Pamela Bale

          Defendant moves to preclude the government from calling Pamela Bale and Hill Feinberg as witnesses based on the proposition that his acquittal on the wire fraud charges collaterally estops the government from presenting evidence related to wire fraud.[1]Defendant argues that because he was acquitted on the wire fraud charges relating to Feinberg and Hill, they should not be permitted to testify in support of the conspiracy to commit wire fraud. Defendant also contends that the testimony would be irrelevant or prejudicial.

         A. The Doctrine of Collateral Estoppel

         The Supreme Court held in Ashe v. Swenson, 397 U.S. 436, 44, 90 S.Ct. 1194, 25 L.Ed.2d 469 (1970), that the doctrine of collateral estoppel, an “establish[ed] rule of federal law[, ] is embodied in the Fifth Amendment guarantee against double jeopardy.” See also, Dowling v. United States, 493 U.S. 342, 347, 110 S.Ct. 668, 671, 107 L.Ed.2d 708 (1990). Collateral estoppel “means simply that when an issue of ultimate fact has once been determined by a valid ...


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