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Sinn v. Brush

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

September 26, 2019

DYLAN SINN, Plaintiff,
JOHN BRUSH, Defendant.



         This matter is set for jury trial on Tuesday, October 15, 2019, on Plaintiff Dylan Sinn’s claim for deliberate indifference in violation of the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Before the Court are the parties’ Motions in Limine. Plaintiff Dylan Sinn (“Sinn”) moves to exclude all evidence of his criminal record and current incarceration. (Filing No. 133.) Defendant John Brush (“Brush”) seeks an order in limine on fifteen different matters during the trial. (Filing No. 145; Filing No. 146.) For the following reasons, both Motions in Limine are granted in part and denied in part.


         This Court has the power to exclude evidence in limine only when evidence is clearly inadmissible on all potential grounds. Luce v. United States, 469 U.S. 38, 41 n. 4, 105 S.Ct. 460, 463 n. 4, 83 L.Ed.2d 443 (1984) (federal district courts have authority to make in limine rulings pursuant to their authority to manage trials). 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.


         A. Sinn’s Motion in Limine (Filing No. 133)

         Federal Rule of Evidence 609 allows the admission of evidence of prior criminal convictions when used to impeach a witness, but different standards apply depending on whether the prior conviction is more or less than ten years old. Rule 609 states that when attacking a witness’s truthfulness, “evidence of a criminal conviction . . . must be admitted in a criminal case in which the witness is a defendant, if the probative value of the evidence outweighs its prejudicial effect to that defendant.” Fed.R.Evid. 609(a)(1)(B). But:

[I]f more than 10 years have passed since the witness’s conviction or release from confinement for it, whichever is later [then the] [e]vidence of the conviction is admissible only if: (1) its probative value, supported by specific facts and circumstances, substantially outweighs its prejudicial effect; and (2) the proponent gives an adverse party reasonable written notice of the intent to use it so that the party has a fair opportunity to contest its use.

Fed. R. Evid. 609(b). Within the ten-year lookback period, the conviction’s probative value must outweigh the prejudicial effect. And beyond ten years, the conviction’s probative value must substantially outweigh the prejudicial effect. A limiting instruction which tells the jury that the prior convictions may only be used in determining the credibility of the defendant reduces the prejudicial effect of admission. United States v. Redditt, 381 F.3d 597, 601 (7th Cir. 2004).

         When he filed his Motion, Sinn was incarcerated in the Vigo County Jail after being charged but not convicted of several offenses. (Filing No. 133 at 1.) He has since been convicted on June 26, 2019 of Auto Theft, a level 6 felony in No. 84D05-1803-F6-00687 and sentenced on that count to one year, consecutive to another matter, for a total sentence of two years.[1] Sinn received credit for time already served and was released from custody.

         Sinn argues that evidence of his incarceration and evidence of convictions to misdemeanor offenses and offenses that are more than 10 years old is irrelevant to his civil suit and should be excluded at trial. Id. at 2. He also argues that evidence of these convictions and pleas would be prejudicial if admitted. Id. With respect to his convictions of crimes within the last 10 years, Sinn argues they should also be excluded. Id. at 2-3. His 2016 felony conviction for criminal confinement resulted in his incarceration at Putnamville Correctional Facility, where he suffered the injuries that have led to this case. Id. Sinn argues that “[w]hy he was incarcerated and whether he had a criminal record has no bearing upon the duties owed to Plaintiff by Defendant Brush, and whether Defendant Brush violated such duties, resulting in Plaintiff’s injuries. Evidence of Plaintiff’s criminal record would serve only the purpose of unfairly prejudicing the jury against him.” Id. at 3.

         Brush responds that he has no intention of offering evidence regarding Sinn’s incarceration or pending charges, any misdemeanors Sinn has been convicted of or pled guilty to, or any crimes older than 10 years Sinn has been convicted of or pled guilty to. (Filing No. 139 at 1-2.) Thus, Sinn’s Motion as to those categories of evidence is granted.

         Brush, however, seeks to present evidence of Sinn’s 2011 convictions for Class D felony possession of marijuana and Class D felony maintaining a common nuisance in cause number 84D03-1103-FD-00830 and his 2016 conviction of Level 6 felony criminal confinement as well as the June 2019 conviction of Level 6 felony auto theft. Brush argues that because these convictions were punishable by imprisonment of more than one year, they “must be admitted, subject to Rule 403, in a civil case.” Fed.R.Evid. 609(a)(1)(A).

         The Federal Rules of Evidence allow admission of felonies less than 10 years old if they are punishable by death or more than one year of imprisonment. The Seventh Circuit has explained that “a person who has committed a serious crime is more likely than a law-abiding person to lie on the stand even if the case in which he is testifying has nothing to do with that crime.” Schmude v. Tricam Indus., Inc., 556 F.3d 624, 627 (7th Cir. 2009). It has outlined a five-factor test to

guide the district court in the exercise of its discretion in determining whether the probative value of a conviction outweighs its prejudicial effect: (1) the impeachment value of the prior crime; (2) the point in time of the conviction and the witness’s subsequent history; (3) the similarity between the past crime and the charged crime; (4) the importance of the defendant’s testimony; and (5) the centrality of the credibility issue.

U.S. v. Montgomery, 390 F.3d 1013, 1015 (7th Cir. 2004). Factors (3) and (4) are irrelevant to this civil proceeding, but the Court will evaluate Sinn’s prior convictions under factors (1) the impeachment value, (2) the ...

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