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United States v. Woods

United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Fayetteville Division

April 3, 2018

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA PLAINTIFF
v.
JONATHAN E. WOODS; OREN PARIS III; and RANDELL G. SHELTON, JR. DEFENDANTS

          OPINION AND ORDER

          TIMOTHY L. BROOKS, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Currently before the Court are:

• Defendant Randell G. Shelton's Second Motion in Limine to Preclude the Government's Use of the Terms "Bribe, " "Kickback, " or Their Synonyms at Trial (Doc. 304) and Memorandum in Support (Doc. 305); and the Government's Response (Doc. 306);
• The Government's Second Motion in Limine (Doc. 302) and Brief in Support (Doc. 303); and the Joint Motion and Brief in Response to Government's Second Motion in Limine (Doc. 307) filed by Defendants Jonathan E. Woods, Oren Paris III, and Mr. Shelton;
• Mr. Shelton's Motion to Compel Disclosure of Evidence pursuant to Brady and the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution (Doc. 310);
• Mr. Shelton's Motion for Severance of Defendants, or in the Alternative, Severance of Count Four of the Second Superseding Indictment (Doc. 311); and
• The Government's Notice of Intent to Introduce 404(b) Evidence (Doc. 309); and Mr. Woods's Response (Doc. 313).

         For the reasons given below, Mr. Shelton's Second Motion in Limine is DENIED, the Government's Second Motion in Limine is GRANTED IN PART AND DENIED IN PART, Mr. Shelton's Motion to Compel is DENIED, and Mr. Shelton's Motion for Severance is DENIED.

         I. MR. SHELTON'S SECOND MOTION IN LIMINE (Doc. 304)

         Mr. Shelton asks the Court to "issue an order precluding the Government from using the terms 'bribe, ' 'bribery, ' kickback, ' or their synonyms at trial except during opening statement (with limitations), closing arguments (with limitations), and instructions." (Doc. 304, p. 1). He offers two[1] arguments in support of this Motion. First, Mr. Shelton argues that the term "bribe" would constitute improper testimony regarding the Defendants' mental state under Fed.R.Evid. 701. Second, he argues that the probative value of the term "bribe" would be substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice under Fed.R.Evid. 403. The Court finds neither of these arguments persuasive.

         Rule 701 states that "[i]f a witness is not testifying as an expert, testimony in the form of an opinion is limited to one that is: (a) rationally based on the witness's perception; (b) helpful to clearly understanding the witness's testimony or to determining a fact in issue; and (c) not based on scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge within the scope of Rule 702." Mr. Shelton contends that if a witness were to use the word "bribe" or some similar word in his or her testimony at trial, then it would be inadmissible lay opinion testimony because none of these three requirements under Rule 701 would be satisfied. The Court disagrees, and can imagine countless scenarios under which use of the word "bribe" by a witness at trial could comport with the requirements of Rule 701. To give but one simple example, a witness could testify that he received a cash payment in exchange for the performance of an official act, and that he understood the payment to be a bribe, based on his conversations with the person who handed him the cash.

         As for Rule 403, it permits the Court to "exclude relevant evidence if its probative value is substantially outweighed by a danger of . . . unfair prejudice." Mr. Shelton speculates that if the Government were to ask a hypothetical witness "[o]n what dates were these bribes (or kickbacks) made, " such a question "would improperly contain an improper assumption of the witness that a bribe or kickback was paid." See Doc. 305, p. 5 (emphasis in original). But this argument simply assumes, without explanation, that the questions preceding this one will have failed to lay any foundation for this question. The Court sees no reason to assume right now that the Government will never be able to lay any such foundation with respect to any witness at trial, given that the Government's central theory of this case is that these Defendants conspired to bribe Mr. Woods.

         The Court will remain mindful throughout trial of the requirements of Rules 701 and 403. And the Court does not mean to say that, in the face of proper and specific objections, it will permit the Government or any other party to pose questions to witnesses that lack proper foundations or that are gratuitously and unfairly prejudicial. But there is no reason at this time to issue the sort of blanket prohibition that Mr. Shelton requests. Therefore, Mr. Shelton's Second Motion in Limine will be DENIED.

         II. THE GOVERNMENT'S SECOND MOTION IN ...


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