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United States v. Komsi

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, New Albany Division

June 28, 2019




         This matter is before the Court on the United States' (the “Government”) Motion for Orders in Limine to exclude the testimonies of three of Defendant Wayne John Komsi, III's (“Komsi”) proposed witnesses (Filing No. 65). For the following reasons, the Government's motion is granted in part and denied in part.


         Pursuant to Rule 12(b) of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, the Government has filed a Motion for Orders in Limine requesting that the Court address certain matters that are capable of resolution prior to trial. The court excludes evidence on a motion in limine only if the evidence clearly is not admissible for any purpose. See Hawthorne Partners v. AT&T Technologies, Inc. 831 F.Supp. 1398, 1400 (N.D. Ill. 1993). Unless evidence meets this exacting standard, evidentiary rulings must be deferred until trial so questions of foundation, relevancy, and prejudice may be resolved in context. Id. at 1400-01. Moreover, denial of a motion in limine does not necessarily mean that all evidence contemplated by the motion is admissible (or inadmissible); rather, it only means that, at the pretrial stage, the court is unable to determine whether the evidence should be excluded. Id. at 1401.


         At the final pretrial conference held on June 7, 2019, Komsi indicated that witness Laura Raiman (“Raiman”), the attorney who represented him in the Veterans Treatment Court, would testify about Komsi's plea agreement and the general operation of the Veterans Treatment Court. Komsi further indicated Marty Pentz, Ph.D. (“Dr. Pentz”) and Lonnie Sutterfield, M.Div. (“ Rev. Sutterfield”) would testify as to his state of mind during the period in which he allegedly purchased the firearms. The Government seeks to exclude the testimonies of these three witnesses arguing the proffered testimony of each witness is either irrelevant, hearsay or opinion testimony that is barred by the rules of evidence.

         A. Testimony of Laura Raiman

          Komsi indicates that Raiman will testify regarding her interpretation of the plea agreement Komsi signed in Jennings County (Indiana), which required him to appear in the Veterans Treatment Court in Bartholomew County (Indiana), and that she would testify about his participation in the Veterans Treatment Court. The Government argues both lines of evidence are inadmissible. (Filing No. 65 at 1.)

         1. Interpretation of the Plea Agreement

         At the final pretrial conference, Komsi's counsel proffered: “[a]lthough Raiman had nothing to do with the plea agreement, she is a lawyer, obviously, and she can interpret for the jury the provisions of the plea agreement as well as the process of the Veteran's Treatment Court.” Raiman's interpretation of the plea agreement is inadmissible under Federal Rules of Evidence 401 and 403, according to the Government, because it is irrelevant and prejudicial. The Government also asserts that her interpretation of the Jennings County plea agreement would be inadmissible under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 16(b)(1)(C) and FRE 702 because, since she was not Komsi's counsel of record in Jennings County, her interpretation of a legal document from that proceeding would be expert testimony.

         Komsi responds that Raiman's responsibilities as his attorney in Bartholomew County require that she be familiar with the plea agreement. (Filing No. 69 at 1.) He contends that if Officer Harry, the witness through whom he expects the Government to introduce the plea agreement, “fairly and accurately explains the plea agreement, with the diversion component, ” he may not call Raiman to testify about it. “[I]n the event that does not occur, fairness dictates that Mr. Komsi would be entitled to call his present state-court counsel to explain to the jury the plea agreement with the diversion component.” Id. at 2.

         The plea agreement itself is admissible evidence, and the Government may lay the foundation for that evidence through a witness familiar with the document. However, the rules of evidence prevent any witness, whether called by the Government or by Komsi, from interpreting the meaning of the plea agreement. A plea agreement is a contract. U.S. v. Hallahan, 756 F.3d 962, 971 (7th Cir. 2014). “Courts have historically refused to admit expert testimony explaining matters of domestic law, including the interpretation of contracts.” Landmark Builders, Inc. v. Cottages of Anderson, LP, 2003 WL 21508118 at *2 (S.D. Ind., May 20, 2003). Although courts will in some cases allow expert testimony to address ambiguous terms, neither party alleges that any part of the plea agreement is ambiguous. See WH Smith Hotel Services, Inc. v. Wendy's Intern., Inc., 25 F.3d 422 (7th Cir. 1994) (admitting expert testimony on industry custom and usage to assist in interpretation of ambiguous terms). Permitting testimony, whether lay testimony or expert testimony, on how to interpret the plea agreement could potentially invade the province of both the jury and the court. Therefore, the Government's Motion regarding this testimony is granted, and Raiman will not be allowed to offer her interpretation of the plea agreement.

         2. Participation and Operation of the Treatment Court

         The Government next requests that Raiman be prohibited from offering testimony regarding Komsi's participation in Veterans Treatment Court because that testimony is irrelevant and inadmissible character evidence. At the final pretrial conference, counsel asserted that Raiman would testify about how the treatment court operates and argued “this is competent and relevant evidence to determine whether or not the defendant was aware that he was under felony indictment at the time that he made application for the firearm acquisitions.” The Government contends this testimony is irrelevant because “[h]is continued participation does not go to whether or not he knew he had a pending felony, ...

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