United States District Court, Southern District of New York
November 29, 2001
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
JOSE RAMON PAREDES, DEFENDANT.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Leisure, District Judge.
The government charges the defendant, Jose Ramon Paredes, with
two conspiracies, the first of which involves possession with
intent to distribute cocaine, heroin, and marijuana, and the
second involving the import and export of those same drugs. On
November 13, 2001, the government moved, in limine, to admit
evidence of the defendant's conviction in Canada for narcotics
offenses and a related parole violation. See Motion in
Limine Regarding Other Crimes, November 13, 2001 ("Other Crimes
Motion"), at 2, 4. At that time, the Court denied the motion,
ruling that the government would have to develop further the
significance of the proffered evidence in order to prevail under
Fed.R.Evid. 404(b). On November 28, 2001, the government renewed
its motion in limine, and the Court granted the motion. The
Court found, through the record adduced at trial, that the
government had shown that the proffered evidence completes the
story of the crimes charged in this case.*fn1 See
Transcript, November 28, 2001 ("Transcript"), at 189-94, 207.
The Court now writes to clarify this ruling.
I. Motions in Limine
The purpose of a motion in limine is to allow the trial
court to rule in advance of trial on the admissibility and
relevance of certain forecasted evidence. See Luce v. United
States, 469 U.S. 38, 41 n. 4, 105 S.Ct. 460, 83 L.Ed.2d 443
(1984) (noting that although the Federal Rules of Evidence do
not explicitly authorize in limine rulings, the practice has
developed pursuant to the district court's inherent authority to
manage the course of trials); Palmieri v. Defaria,
88 F.3d 136, 141 (2d Cir. 1996); National Union Fire Ins. Co. v. L.E.
Myers Co. Group, 937 F. Supp. 276, 283 (S.D.N.Y. 1996). Evidence
should be excluded on a motion in limine only when the
evidence is clearly inadmissible on all potential grounds. See
Noble v. Sheahan, 116 F. Supp.2d 966, 969 (N.D.Ill. 2000); see
also Baxter Diagnostics, Inc. v. Novatek Medical, Inc., No. 94
Civ. 5520, 1998 WL 665138, at*3 (S.D.N.Y. Sept. 25, 1998)
(denying a motion in limine to preclude presentation of
evidence regarding a potential punitive damages claim because
the motion was too sweeping in scope to be considered prior to
trial). Indeed, courts considering a motion in limine may
reserve judgment until trial, so that the motion is placed in
the appropriate factual context. See National Union Fire Ins.
Co., 937 F. Supp. at 287 (citing Hawthorne Partners v. AT & T
Technologies, Inc., 831 F. Supp. 1398, 1400 (N.D.Ill. 1993)).
Further, the court's ruling regarding a motion in limine is
"subject to change when the case unfolds, particularly if the
actual testimony differs from what was contained in the
defendant's proffer." Luce, 469 U.S. at 41, 105 S.Ct. 460.
II. The Defendant's Canadian Narcotics Conviction and
Related Parole Violation
The government seeks to prove, through cooperator testimony
and taped conversations between Jose Ramon Paredes and at least
one of the cooperating witnesses, that Paredes was convicted of
conspiring to traffic in narcotics, and narcotic trafficking, in
June of 1993 in Toronto, Canada, and was sentenced to 9 years of
imprisonment. See Government's Motion in Limine Regarding
Other Crimes, November 13, 2001 at 2, 4. The government also
seeks to show that Paredes was released on parole after serving
only three years of his sentence, but violated his term of
parole in 1998, resulting in suspension of his parole and a four
month term of imprisonment from August 24, 1998 up to and
including December 18, 1998. See id.
Rule 404(b) of the Federal Rules of Evidence provides in
Evidence of other crimes, wrongs, or acts is not
admissible to prove the character of a person in
order to show action in conformity therewith. It may,
however, be admissible for other purposes, such as
proof of motive, opportunity, intent, preparation,
plan, knowledge, identity, or absence of mistake or
accident. . . .
Although evidence of other crimes is not admissible to show
"action in conformity therewith," the Second Circuit has found
such evidence admissible for a variety of other purposes. See
United States v. Pascarella, 84 F.3d 61, 69 (2d Cir. 1996);
United States v. Inserra, 34 F.3d 83
, 89 (2d Cir. 1994).
Indeed, the Second Circuit follows an inclusionary approach
under Fed.R.Evid. 404(b), admitting evidence "unless it is
introduced for the sole purpose of showing the defendant's bad
character, or unless it is overly prejudicial under Fed.R.Evid.
403 or not relevant under Fed.R.Evid. 402." Pascarella, 84
F.3d at 69.
It is beyond cavil that other crimes evidence may be used to
complete the story of the crimes charged. See e.g., United
States v. Williams, 205 F.3d 23, 33 (2d Cir.), cert. denied
531 U.S. 885, 121 S.Ct. 203, 148 L.Ed.2d 142 (2000); United
States v. Araujo, 79 F.3d 7, 8 (2d Cir. 1996); United States
v. Pipola, 83 F.3d 556, 566 (2d Cir. 1996). Indeed, the Second
Circuit has afforded significant leeway regarding such evidence
in conspiracy cases. In United States v. Williams, the Second
Circuit opined that the defendant's prior criminal conduct was
relevant "to inform the jury of the background of the conspiracy
charged, to complete the story of the crimes charged, and to
help explain to the jury how the illegal relationship between
the participants in the crime developed." 205 F.3d at 33
(quoting United States v. Pitre, 960 F.2d 1112, 1119 (2d Cir.
In the present case, the government argues that Paredes's
Canadian conviction and his parole violation should be admitted
under Fed.R.Evid. 404(b)
because the evidence is offered to show the defendant's
reluctance to travel to the United States to meet with Virgilio
Gonzalez, thereby helping to complete the story of the crimes
charged. See Other Crimes Motion at p. 5. This has become an
important element of the case as developed at trial, because the
government has introduced evidence that Paredes, based in
Montreal, Canada, did a great deal of narcotics trafficking with
drug dealers in New York, including Virgilio Gonzalez, but that
Paredes rarely traveled to the United States. The defendant's
Canadian narcotics conviction and his related parole violation
provide background explaining why the defendant was unwilling to
travel to New York, and why, instead, he used several different
couriers for the bulk of his transactions.*fn2
The defendant argues that introduction of Paredes's parole
violation would be enough for the government to make this point.
See Transcript at 208. However, the defendant's Canadian
narcotics conviction adds important background information,
because clearly someone who has previously been convicted for
drug trafficking would be especially wary of being caught
committing the same crime. This fear of being caught would help
to explain the manner in which Paredes allegedly ran the drug
conspiracy with which he is charged.
Further, the Court finds that admission of this evidence does
not violate Fed.R.Evid. 403. The evidence is highly probative,
and any potential danger of unfair prejudice was tempered by a
limiting instruction agreed to by both the defendant and the
government.*fn3 Indeed, the other crimes presented here were
less serious than the underlying crimes charged. See United
States v. Williams, 205 F.3d 23, 34 (2d Cir.) (McLaughlin, J.),
cert. denied 531 U.S. 885, 121 S.Ct. 203, 148 L.Ed.2d 142
(2000) (finding no violation of Fed.R.Evid. 403 where the other
crimes evidence introduced is less serious than the underlying
crimes charged, and a limiting instruction is given), United
States v. Livoti, 196 F.3d 322, 326 (2d Cir. 1999) (same).
For the reasons set forth above, the government's renewed
motion to introduce evidence of Paredes's Canadian conviction
and parole violation is granted.