United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana
NELSON ARCE ET AL.
LOUISIANA STATE ET AL.
ORDER AND REASONS
M. AFRICK UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
the Court is a motion in limine filed by
plaintiffs. The motion seeks to preclude defendants
from offering testimony and documentary evidence concerning
the specific charge for which Nelson was convicted, as well
as the reasons that Nelson Arce was discharged from drug
treatment facilities. Plaintiffs argue that such evidence is
irrelevant, unfairly prejudicial, inadmissible hearsay,
and/or inadmissible character evidence. The motion also seeks
to preclude the State of Louisiana (“Louisiana”)
from arguing that Nelson had a propensity to violate
probation. Louisiana opposes the motion in part.
following reasons, the motion is denied in part, deferred in
part, and dismissed as moot in part.
argue that the Court should preclude testimony and
documentary evidence concerning Nelson's criminal
history-more specifically, the charge that resulted in his
probation-as irrelevant under Rules 401 and 402, unfairly
prejudicial under Rule 403, and inadmissible character
evidence under Rule 404. While plaintiffs admit that
“the jury will need some basic background information
to understand the nature of [their] allegations, ” they
nonetheless argue that Nelson's criminal history is
“wholly irrelevant” to the case. According to
plaintiffs, “the jury does not need to know the charge
for which Nelson was convicted and sentenced, the fact that
his sentence was suspended and probation was ordered in its
place, or Nelson's complete criminal history.” In
their view, “the only purpose for offering this
information is to impugn Nelson Arce's character and ask
the jury to infer that . . . he was a bad person or a junkie
and thus perhaps deserving of the discrimination he
counters that “certain basic information regarding
Nelson's conviction is helpful to the jurors'
understanding of the case and the reasons why . . . it was
significant in the State's eyes that Nelson complete
inpatient drug rehabilitation and not use drugs, and
ultimately, why his probation was
revoked.”Moreover, Louisiana contends that
“the identity of the crime to which Nelson pleaded
guilty is relevant . . . to issues surrounding Nelson's
probation requirements and subsequent
violations.” Louisiana also views plaintiffs'
request to exclude evidence that Nelson's sentence was
suspended and that probation was ordered as
“nonsensical, ” given the fact that
plaintiffs' case against Louisiana expressly concerns
“actions that occurred while Nelson was on
Louisiana states that it “does not intend to argue that
Nelson was a bad person because of his
convictions.” Louisiana goes on to state that it
“has been willing to compromise” with plaintiffs:
it is “willing to redact references to ‘heroin
possession' from the record, as long as the jury may be
informed that Nelson pleaded guilty to ‘drug
Court concludes that the categorical exclusion of all
testimony and documentary evidence concerning Nelson's
conviction would be improper. First, “[e]vidence is
relevant if (a) it has any tendency to make a fact more or
less probable than it would be without the evidence; and (b)
the fact is of consequence in determining the action.”
Fed.R.Evid. 401. “[T]he standard of relevance in an
evidentiary context is not a steep or difficult one to
satisfy.” Pub. Emps. Retirement Sys. of Miss. v.
Amedisys, Inc., 769 F.3d 313, 321 (5th Cir. 2014).
Louisiana has demonstrated that this category of evidence is
relevant to the case. In particular, Louisiana points out
that Nelson's conviction provides context for the terms
and conditions of probation imposed on Nelson.
evidence is admissible unless otherwise provided by the
Constitution, a federal statute, another Federal Rule of
Evidence, or another rule prescribed by the Supreme Court.
Fed.R.Evid. 402. Under Rule 403, relevant evidence may be
excluded “if its probative value is substantially
outweighed by a danger of one or more of the following:
unfair prejudice, confusing the issues, misleading the jury,
undue delay, wasting time, or needlessly presenting
cumulative evidence.” Fed.R.Evid. 403. The Fifth
Circuit has counseled that Rule 403 is meant to be applied
“sparingly.” Baker v. Can. Nat./Ill. Cent.
R.R., 536 F.3d 357, 369 (5th Cir. 2008). Moreover, Rule
404 severely restricts the admissibility of evidence to
support propensity-based arguments. See Fed. R.
Court concludes that Louisiana's representations about
its intended use of Nelson's conviction, coupled with its
willingness to instruct its witnesses to not mention the
particular drug at the center of the conviction (and to
redact the same from documentary evidence), adequately
addresses plaintiffs' Rule 403 and 404 concerns. With
respect to plaintiffs' Rule 403 objection in particular,
the danger of unfair prejudice does not substantially
outweigh the probative value of the fact that Nelson's
probation arose from a conviction for drug possession. The
Court also notes that it is willing to provide a limiting
instruction to the jury regarding Nelson's conviction,
should plaintiffs request such an instruction.
also argue that the Court should preclude testimony and
documentary evidence about the reasons why elson was
discharged from drug treatment facilities. They argue that
such evidence is inadmissible hearsay under Rules 801 and
802, irrelevant under Rules 401 and 402, unfairly prejudicial
under Rule 403, and inadmissible character evidence under
first argue that “[a]ny information concerning Nelson
Arce's discharge from various drug treatment facilities
and the reasons [for the discharge] would be impermissible
hearsay.” According to Louisiana, it expects
plaintiffs to argue at trial that Nelson's probation
officer moved to revoke Nelson's probation because she
learned that Nelson had left Louisiana. Louisiana
states that it “intends to introduce evidence that
[Nelson's probation officer] had learned of other
probation violations as well (not just leaving the state),
including Nelson's failure to complete a mandatory
inpatient drug rehabilitation program and ...