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Best v. Indiana Department of Correction

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division

August 1, 2019

LARRY BEST, JR., Plaintiff,
v.
INDIANA DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTION, DUSHAN ZATECKY, JOHN SAFFORD, JEFFERY KING, and HERBERT DUNCAN, Defendants.

          ENTRY ON MOTIONS IN LIMINE

          TANYA WALTON PRATT, JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on Motions in Limine filed by Plaintiff Larry Best, Jr. (“Best”) (Filing No. 184) and Defendants the Indiana Department of Correction (“IDOC”), Dushan Zatecky, John Safford, Jeffery King, and Herbert Duncan (collectively, “Defendants”) (Filing No. 167). After spending more than three and a half years in administrative segregation at the Pendleton Correctional Facility, Best was moved back into the general population at the prison, and two weeks later, he was attacked and seriously injured by fellow inmates. Best initiated this lawsuit against the Defendants as well as other prison officials and medical staff for violating his Eighth, Ninth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights by failing to protect him and having a deliberate indifference toward his health and safety. Following motions to dismiss and motions for summary judgment, this case is now set for a jury trial on Best's constitutional claims against the Defendants for deliberate indifference and failure to protect. For the following reasons, Best's Motion in Limine is granted in part and denied in part, and the Defendants' Motion in Limine also is granted in part and denied in part.

         I. LEGAL STANDARD

         “[J]udges have broad discretion in ruling on evidentiary questions during trial or before on motions in limine.” Jenkins v. Chrysler Motors Corp., 316 F.3d 663, 664 (7th Cir. 2002). 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; rather, it only means that, at the pretrial stage, the Court is unable to determine whether the evidence should be excluded. Id. at 1401.

         II. DISCUSSION

         Best and the Defendants each filed a Motion in Limine, asking the Court to make a pretrial determination regarding the admissibility of particular evidence. The Court will address each Motion in turn.

         A. Best's Motion in Limine

         Best asks the Court to exclude any of his prior convictions and his criminal record pursuant to Federal Rule of Evidence 609. He asserts that his prior convictions and criminal history are irrelevant to the issues at trial and have limited or no probative value, and this evidence does not speak to his truthfulness. Convictions of drug possession and dealing, burglary, and resisting law enforcement do not speak to truthfulness or credibility, and such evidence would only unfairly inflame the jury. Best explains that other courts in the Circuit have excluded evidence of prior arrests in § 1983 cases as “grossly unfairly prejudicial in a way that greatly outweighs its minuscule probative value.” Bruce v. City of Chi., 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 83421, at *29 (N.D. Ill. July 29, 2011). Best asserts, “Defendants should only be allowed to introduce the fact that Plaintiff was convicted of a felony and is currently serving a sentence in prison for his crime. This Court should exclude evidence of the Plaintiff's underlying crimes.” (Filing No. 185 at 2.)

         In response, the “Defendants concede plaintiff's motion in limine No. 1 as to plaintiff's prior criminal convictions.” (Filing No. 193 at 1.) Best's request to exclude evidence as to his prior convictions and his criminal record is well-taken and is granted.

         Next, Best asks the Court to exclude any evidence, testimony, or argument about his history of illegal drug use. His drug use prior to the prison assault on August 7, 2015, has little probative value and an unduly prejudicial effect. Such evidence is inadmissible character evidence under Rule 404(b), and the evidence is not relevant to the issues for trial. Best asserts that there is no evidence that he was under the influence of any drugs at the time that he was assaulted.

         In response, the “Defendants concede plaintiff's motion in limine No. 2 as to plaintiff's prior drug use, as defendants do not contend plaintiff was intoxicated or under the influence of drugs at the time of the August 7, 2015 altercation, or that intoxicants played a role in the altercation.” (Filing No. 193 at 1.) Best's request to exclude evidence and argument as to his prior drug use is well-taken and is granted.

         Next, Best asks the Court to exclude any evidence concerning “his rule violation history including a detention, administrative findings, any change in his inmate classification status as a result of any administrative findings and/or adjudication, and any administrative charges or convictions which arose out of incidents preceding August 7, 2015.” (Filing No. 185 at 4.) Rule 404(b) provides, “[e]vidence of a crime, wrong, or other act is not admissible to prove a person's character in order to show that on a particular occasion the person acted in accordance with the character, ” but such evidence “may be admissible for another purpose.” Best contends that evidence of rules violations and administrative hearings and findings would be impermissible character evidence, unduly prejudicial, and irrelevant.

         The Defendants oppose the motion in limine. They argue “the cause and origin of the altercation which occurred on August 7, 2015 is a key issue in this case.” (Filing No. 193 at 2.) Best alleges that he needed protection because he refused to join the Aryan Brotherhood prison gang. The Defendants assert that Best's rules violation history shows misconduct that led Best to incur debts to other inmates, and his debts led to his attack. The Defendants argue that Best's debt to other inmates was the ultimate reason for his transfer to another prison. Thus, they argue, Best's rules violation history is relevant to the claims at issue and should be considered by the jury.

         At this stage, the Court is unable to determine whether this evidence is clearly not admissible for any purpose. See Hawthorne, 831 F.Supp. at 1400. Best has not met the “exacting standard” to exclude this evidence in limine. Accordingly, evidentiary rulings concerning Best's rules violation history must be deferred until trial so that questions of relevancy and prejudice may be resolved in context. Therefore, this request is denied.

         Finally, Best asks the Court to allow him “to be unshackled, dress in civilian clothes and be separated [a] reasonable distance from IDOC staff while in the presence of the jury to minimize any prejudice that the prison attire and guard may cause.” (Filing No. 185 at 4.) “Security permitting, Plaintiff should not be hand-cuffed during the course of the trial and any leg shackles removed or obstructed from the view of the jury.” Id. at 5.

         The Defendants respond that Best's earliest possible release date is in May 2028, and with at least another eight years of incarceration, Best has great incentive to flee if the opportunity is presented. The Defendants agree that handcuffs are not necessary during trial, but leg shackles should not be removed and can simply be obstructed from the view of the jury. They also argue that Best should wear prison clothing to make him easily identifiable if he tries to flee, and the jury will know that he is incarcerated, so there is no prejudice to him wearing prison clothing.[1]

         The Court grants Best's request concerning handcuffs and clothing and denies his request regarding leg shackles. Best may attend trial without handcuffs and be dressed in civilian clothing to minimize any prejudice based on personal appearance. However, for security purposes and at the direction of the U.S. Marshal, Best must remain in leg shackles throughout the course of the trial. Prisoners often appear for jury trials in this courthouse. The courtroom tables will be skirted to conceal the leg shackles and Best will be moved about the courtroom with leg shackles outside the presence of the jury. The Court leaves to the discretion of IDOC officers what constitutes a “reasonable distance of separation” between IDOC staff and Best while the jury is in the courtroom.

         B. Defendants' Motion in Limine

         1. Employee ...


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