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United States v. Courtney

United States District Court, M.D. Louisiana

August 30, 2017

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
TIMOTHY COURTNEY

          RULING AND ORDER

          JOHN W. DEGRAVELLES, JUDGE.

         Before the Court is the Motion in Limine to Exclude Evidence, Questioning, and Argument Regarding Defendant’s Self-Serving Hearsay filed by the United States. (Doc. 53.) The motion is opposed by Timothy Courtney (“Courtney” or “Defendant”). (Doc. 55.) The United States has filed a reply. (Doc. 57.) Oral argument is not necessary. The Court has carefully considered the law, the facts in the record, and the arguments and submissions of the parties and is prepared to rule.

         In sum, the Court finds that the Federal Rules of Evidence preclude the Defendant from introducing or eliciting his own out-of-court statements-including those made on the 18-minute jail call recording-as they are inadmissible hearsay. The Court further finds that Rule 106, the rule of completeness, does not apply because the Defendant has failed to allege how admission of additional excerpts of the recording are relevant and/or necessary to ensure completeness of the evidence. Lastly, Rule 807, the residual exception to hearsay, does not apply, as the Defendant has failed to sufficiently allege any indicia of either reliability or probativeness of the additional excerpts. Consequently, the United States’ motion in limine is GRANTED.

         I. Factual Background

         A. Overview

         On August 9, 2016, pursuant to a search warrant, Baton Rouge police officers searched 3936 Odell Street, a residence in Baton Rouge. Timothy Courtney, the Defendant, was present in the residence at the time of the search. During the search, the officers found, amongst other items, a firearm and narcotics. The officers subsequently arrested the Defendant, and he was booked into East Baton Rouge Parish Prison.

         On December 8, 2016, a grand jury returned a superseding indictment charging the Defendant with possession of a firearm by a convicted felon (Count 1), in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g), and possession of cocaine base and methamphetamine (Count 2), in violation of 18 U.S.C § 844(a). (Doc. 21.) The Court has ordered the two counts to be tried separately. (Docs. 43, 48.) The trial for Count 1 is set for September 14, 2017, and a pretrial conference is scheduled for August 31, 2017. (Doc. 49.)

         B. The Recording

         The instant motion focuses solely on a particular piece of evidence the United States intends to use at trial-an 18-minute jail call recording made on August 11, 2016 at the prison from the Defendant to Tonya Hilliard (“Hilliard”), his alleged girlfriend at the time. The phone call was recorded in its entirety, and both parties have stipulated that the recorded conversation, marked as United States Exhibit 1, is an authentic audio recording of the telephone conversation between Hilliard and the Defendant under Fed. R. Evid. 901. (Doc. 39, Gov. Ex. 1.) This stipulation was authenticated in open court and entered into the record on February 22, 2017. (Docs. 38, 39).

         During the conversation between the Defendant and Hilliard, there was discussion about the search of the residence. Specifically, the United States’ argues that the Defendant “made incriminating admissions with respect to the firearm found within the residence” and that the United States “intends to introduce excerpts of the aforementioned 18-minute jail call where the defendant discusses the firearm.” (Doc. 53-1.)

         II. Parties’ Arguments

         A. United States’ Motion in limine

         The United States has filed this motion in limine to preclude the Defendant from “introducing his own out-of-court self-serving statements-including but not limited to the remainder of the 18-minute jail call recording-on the basis that they are inadmissible hearsay.” (Doc. 53-1 at 2.) The United States urges the Court that while the Federal Rules of Evidence allow the United States to introduce excerpts of the call as admissions of a party opponent, the Rules prohibit the Defendant from using other portions of the call on the basis that they are inadmissible hearsay. As such, the United States asks the Court to “grant the instant motion and preclude the [D]efendant from introducing his own out-of-court statements, including the remainder of the aforementioned 18-minute jail [call] recording.” (Doc. 53-1 at 4.) The United States maintains that while Rule 801(d)(2)(A) permits the United States to use the Defendant’s statements as statements offered by the party-opponent, the Defendant may not, on direct or cross, introduce any of his own-of-court statements because they are inadmissible hearsay when offered by the Defendant. (Doc. 53-1.)

         Further, the United States argues that the rule of completeness does not give the Defendant “carte blanche” to introduce the remainder of the recorded jail call. (Doc. 57.) The United States asserts that the Fifth Circuit only permits admission of omitted portions of a recorded statement pursuant to Rule 106 where the omitted portion is “relevant and necessary to qualify, explain, or place into context the portion already introduced.” (Doc. 57 at 2.) They argue that the Defendant has not satisfied this specific criteria (i.e., relevance and context), as is required to admit omitted portions under Rule 106. (Doc. 57 at 2-3.) The United States contends that the entire recording remains inadmissible unless the Defendant establishes how the omitted portions of the jail call are relevant and explanatory to the excerpts the Government intends to introduce. (Doc. 57 at 2-3.)

         Lastly, the United States argues that the Defendant has failed to meet the “onerous test” set forth by Rule 807. (Doc. 57 at 4.) The Government argues that the Defendant has failed to show how his recorded statements have “equivalent guarantees of trustworthiness,” or other indicia of reliability. (Doc. 57 at 4-5.) Additionally, the United States asserts that the Defendant has also failed to show that his recorded statements are “more probative on the point for which they are offered than any other evidence that the proponent can obtain through reasonable efforts”-a factor they claim is also necessary under Rule 807. (Doc. 57 at 4-5.) In sum, the United States maintains that because the Defendant has not even attempted to meet the heavy burden of Rule 807, that the residual exception does not apply and the entire recording remains inadmissible. (Doc. 57 at 5.)

         B. ...


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