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United States v. Coulter

United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma

July 12, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
GERMAINE COULTER, SR., a/k/a “Slim, ” Defendant.

          ORDER

          TIMOTHY D. DEGIUSTI, CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Before the Court are Defendant's Motions in Limine to exclude evidence of: (1) use of physical violence to control adult sex workers and alleged victims [Doc. No. 145]; (2) Defendant's past drug use and/or trafficking of drugs as part of enticing and recruiting victims [Doc. No. 146]; (3) Defendant's operation of a “profitable business” with “fancy cars” and “multiple expensive homes” [Doc. No. 147]; and, (4) Defendant's prior convictions [Doc. No. 148]. The government has responded [Doc. No. 154]. In addition, the government filed its own Motion in Limine to Admit Evidence as Instrinsic or as Rule 404(b) Evidence [Doc. No. 138] which overlaps with, and responds to, Defendant's Motions in Limine in certain respects.

         BACKGROUND

         Defendant was indicted in June 2018 on a charge of conspiracy to commit child sex trafficking in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1591(a)(1), (a)(2), (b)(2), and (c), and a charge of child sex trafficking in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 1591(a)(1), (b)(2), and (c), § 1594(a), and 18 U.S.C. § 2. The Court granted the government's motion to designate this matter as a case “of special public importance” pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3509(j). Order [Doc. No. 44]. On November 13, 2018, a Superseding Indictment [Doc. No. 64] was returned adding an additional child victim.

         The Superseding Indictment alleges that Defendant engaged in recruiting, enticing, providing, transporting, harboring, obtaining, and maintaining minors who had not attained the age of 18 years for the financial benefit of Defendant, and others, and for commercial sex transactions. Superseding Indictment at 3, 13, 14. The Superseding Indictment further alleges that Defendant and his coconspirator, Elizabeth Andrade, promised independence, money, cars, nail services, apartments, and drugs in order to recruit and entice minor females. Id. at 3. All of the charges are alleged to have occurred between on or about January 1, 2018, and on or about February 19, 2018.

         Addressed in this Order are four motions in limine filed by Defendant [Doc. Nos. 145, 146, 147, and 148]. Defendant moves to preclude the government from introducing evidence of: (1) prior convictions and involvement in “pimping and trafficking”; (2) use of physical violence to control the women and girls who worked for him or the alleged victims; (3) Defendant's alleged profitable business with “fancy cars and multiple expensive homes” and use thereof to recruit; and, (4) Defendant's past drug use and/or trafficking of drugs. This Order also address the government's Motion in Limine to Admit Evidence [Doc. No. 138] in which it seeks admission of Defendant's prior convictions and other bad acts pursuant to Rule 404(b) or as intrinsic to the crimes charged.

         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

         On June 7, 2019, the government filed its Notice of Intent to Introduce Rule 404(b) Evidence [Doc. No. 129] stating that it anticipated introducing Defendant's prior convictions and various arguably illegal activities as evidence intrinsic to the charged conduct or admissible pursuant to Rule 404(b). Defendant's Motions in Limine [Doc. Nos. 145-148] seek to exclude evidence enumerated in the Notice as well as other evidence. The government filed its own Motion in Limine to Admit Evidence [Doc. No. 138] asserting that evidence of “Defendant's long history of sex trafficking, drug use, drug trafficking, and racketeering” and his prior related convictions is intrinsic evidence or, alternatively, admissible under Rule 404(b). Motion [Doc. No. 138] at 2. Because the government incorporates the arguments contained in its Motion to Admit in its response to Defendant's Motions in Limine, the Court will address all five motions in this Order.[1]

         I. Prior Convictions Pursuant to Rule 609(a)

         On June 28, 2019, the government file its Notice of Intent to Introduce Rule 609(a) Evidence [Doc. No. 140] stating that, in the event Defendant elects to testify, it intends to introduce evidence of Defendant's prior felony convictions to impeach his credibility. Notice at 1. In response, Defendant filed a Motion in Limine [Doc. No. 148] seeking to exclude his prior convictions, asserting that: (1) the government has not identified which prior convictions the government intends to introduce; (2) such evidence would be unfairly prejudicial and confuse or mislead the jury; and, (3) convictions more than ten (10) years old should not be admitted. Motion at 2, 3, 4, and 6.

         Rule 609(a) is used for “attacking a witness's character for truthfulness.” It is unknown at this time whether the Defendant will testify at trial. The Court notes, generally, that in addressing admissibility under Rule 609 at trial, the five-factor test discussed in United States v. Smalls, 752 F.3d 1227, 1240 (10th Cir. 2014) applies. On the current record, the Court does not have sufficient information to effectively apply the five-part test. In this regard, the Court notes that two of the convictions listed by the government ...


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