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United States v. Bates

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

June 1, 2015

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
NEMESSIS BATES

SECTION: R(4)

ORDER AND REASONS

SARAH S. VANCE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

Defendant Nemessis Bates moves in limine to permit him, under Federal Rule of Evidence 609(b), to cross-examine a government witness about two prior convictions incurred over ten years ago involving dishonest acts and false statements.[1] The government does not oppose the motion. For the following reasons, the Court GRANTS the motion.

I. BACKGROUND

Defendant is accused of hiring a “hitman” to murder Christopher “Tiger” Smith. He is charged with four counts in the superseding indictment: (1) solicitation to commit a crime of violence in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 1958(a) and 373; (2) use of interstate commerce facilities in the commission of murder-for-hire in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 1958(a) and 2; (3) causing death through use of a firearm in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 924(j)(1) and 2; and (4) conspiracy to possess firearms in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(o).[2]

According to defendant, the government plans to call to testify at trial defendant’s former “male friend” (“Witness A”). Defendant anticipates that Witness A will testify that defendant told him that defendant had hired a hitman. Defendant further anticipates that the government will elicit similar testimony from defendant’s former “girlfriend.” At the time defendant filed this motion, defendant did not have access to Witness A’s arrest and conviction record, but represents that Witness A has been prosecuted within the past fifteen to twenty years by the United States Attorney’s Office, and upon his pleas of guilty, was convicted twice. According to defendant, Witness A was convicted twice for crimes of bank and credit card fraud. Defendant represents that Witness A was sentenced to terms of imprisonment for both convictions. The government has stipulated to the existence of Witness A’s prior convictions.

II. LEGAL STANDARD

Federal Rule of Evidence 609 governs impeachment by proof of a witness's earlier criminal convictions. “The rule is premised on the belief that a witness's criminal past is indicative of a dishonest character or a willingness to flaunt the law.” Steven Goode & Olin Guy Wellborn III, Courtroom Handbook on Federal Evidence, 432 (2011). Rule 609(a)(2) provides that evidence of a witness’s prior criminal conviction “must be admitted if the court can readily determine that establishing the elements of the crime required proving--or the witness’s admitting--a dishonest act or false statement.” Crimes that involve dishonesty or false statement include crimes such as perjury, criminal fraud, embezzlement, or any other offenses involving some element of deceit, untruthfulness or falsification. Fed.R.Evid. 609, adv. comm. notes. But, under Rule 609(b), “if more than 10 years have passed since the witness’s conviction or release from confinement for it, whichever is later, ” evidence of the conviction is admissible only if: “(1) its probative value, supported by 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.” In the Fifth Circuit, to admit evidence of prior convictions under Rule 609(b), the court “must find that the probative value substantially outweighs the prejudicial effect and base that finding on ‘specific facts and circumstances.’” United States v. Acosta, 763 F.2d 671, 695 (5th Cir. 1985) (quoting Fed.R.Evid. 609(b)). For convictions older than ten years, the general rule is inadmissibility. United States v. Hamilton, 48 F.3d 149, 154 (5th Cir. 1995).

In weighing the probative value versus any prejudicial effect of admitting prior convictions under Rule 609(b), courts consider the following factors:

(1) The nature [impeachment value] of the crime.
(2) The time of conviction.
(3) The similarity between the past crime and the charged crime.
(4) The importance of [the witness’s] testimony.
(5) The centrality of the credibility ...

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