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United States v. Pinner

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

August 27, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
BRYANT PINNER, Defendant.

          ORDER ON MOTION IN LIMINE

          James Patrick Hanlon United States District Judge

         The government has filed a motion in limine, seeking to bar Defendant Bryant Pinner from introducing evidence and making arguments about the necessity defense.[1] Dkt. [88]. For the reasons that follow, that motion is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.

         I. Facts and Background

         Mr. Pinner is charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm. Dkt. 24. Trial is set for October 7, 2019. Dkt. 97. The government has filed a motion in limine, seeking to bar Mr. Pinner from introducing evidence and making arguments about the necessity defense. Dkt. 88 at 1.

         Mr. Pinner has responded, providing a factual proffer, dkt. 103, which the Court accepts for this order, see United States v. Tokash, 282 F.3d 962, 968 (7th Cir. 2002). He explains that on March 19, 2017, Mr. Pinner was living at the Meadowlark Apartments in Indianapolis with his girlfriend R.G. Id. at 2. R.G.'s sister, C.M., also lived at the Meadowlark Apartments, but in a different building separated by a parking lot and courtyard. Id. at 2-3.

         On the morning of March 19, C.M. and her then-boyfriend Justin Covington were arguing and intruded uninvited into Mr. Pinner's apartment. Id. at 3. Five people-Mr. Pinner, Mr. Covington, C.M., R.G., and R.G.'s teenage son-soon left Mr. Pinner's apartment and walked across the courtyard toward C.M.'s apartment. Id. Mr. Covington walked in the back with his hand in his jacket, threatening to kill those in front of him. Id.

         Shortly into the walk, Mr. Pinner turned and punched Mr. Covington. Id. Others joined in the scuffle, but when C.M. fell on top of Mr. Covington everyone else backed away. Id. Then Mr. Covington shot C.M. in the leg and R.G. in the stomach and fired several shots at Mr. Pinner. Id. at 3-4. Mr. Covington tried to shoot R.G. in the head, but the gun was empty or misfired. Id. at 4.

         R.G. then hid between two cars while C.M. hid elsewhere. Id. Mr. Pinner sought help from bystanders and tried to get back into his apartment, but the door was locked. Id. Mr. Pinner, R.G., and R.G.'s son did not have cell phones with them. Id. Finally, a bystander offered Mr. Pinner a pistol. Mr. Pinner took the gun and moved around the apartment complex for about three minutes. Id. at 5. He then gave the pistol back to the bystander. Id. Mr. Covington was “on the scene” during that time and came back into the parking lot after Mr. Pinner returned the gun. Id. A few minutes later, IMPD officers arrived. Id. at 6.

         II. Applicable Law

         If evidence “clearly would be inadmissible for any purpose, ” the Court may issue a pretrial order in limine excluding it from further consideration. Jonasson v. Lutheran Child & Family Servs., 115 F.3d 436, 440 (7th Cir. 1997). Orders in limine thus “ensure the expeditious and evenhanded management of the trial proceedings” by focusing preparation for trial and streamlining the trial itself. Id. They “are of course common, and frequently granted, in criminal as in civil trials.” United States v. Warner, 506 F.3d 517, 523 (7th Cir. 2007). Still, orders in limine are preliminary and “subject to change when the case unfolds” because actual testimony may differ from a pretrial proffer. Luce v. United States, 469 U.S. 38, 41 (1984). The Court may also defer ruling until trial, “when the trial judge can better estimate [the evidence's] impact on the jury.” Jonasson, 115 F.3d at 440.

         Evidence supporting a defense should be excluded in limine “unless all of its elements can be established.” Tokash, 282 F.3d 962, 968 (7th Cir. 2002) (citation and quotation omitted). Otherwise, the jury would be burdened with a potpourri of irrelevant evidence and the trial would be derailed. Id.

         III. Analysis

         The government argues that Mr. Pinner cannot proffer facts showing an immediate threat, so he cannot satisfy the elements of a necessity defense. Dkt. 88 at 7. Mr. Pinner responds that he only held the gun for about three minutes, and during that time he and others remained threatened by greater harm from Mr. Covington. Dkt. 103 at 9.[2]

         The necessity defense is narrow. United States v. Kilgore, 591 F.3d 890, 893 (7th Cir. 2010). So narrow that it has only been applied “to the individual who in the heat of a dangerous moment disarms someone else, thereby possessing a gun briefly in order to prevent injury to himself.” Id. (quotation and citation omitted). The defense will “rarely” apply outside that situation. Id. (quoting United States v. Perez, 86 F.3d 735, 737 (7th Cir. 1996)). But “rarely” is not “never”-the necessity defense can be at issue when there's some ...


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