United States District Court, N.D. New York
ANDREW S. HOLLAND, ESQ., NAPIERSKI, VANDENBURGH, NAPIERSKI & O'CONNOR, LLP, Albany, New York, Attorneys for Plaintiff.
MELISSA A. LATINO, AAG, JAMES J. SEAMAN, AAG, OFFICE OF THE NEW YORK STATE, ATTORNEY GENERAL, The Capital, Albany, New York, Attorneys for Defendants.
MEMORANDUM-DECISION AND ORDER
MAE A. D'AGOSTINO, District Judge.
Pending before the Court are Plaintiff's motion in limine, see Dkt. No. 74, and Defendants' motion in limine, see Dkt. No. 82. At issue in this Memorandum-Decision and Order is the admissibility of evidence of Plaintiff's criminal convictions to impeach his credibility.
Plaintiff, a New York State prison inmate, commenced this Section 1983 action against nine corrections officers employed at Great Meadow Correctional Facility. See Dkt. No. 1. In his complaint, Plaintiff alleges that he was subjected to an unprovoked attack by Defendants, violating his rights under the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution, and causing him to sustain injuries requiring medical treatment.
Plaintiff is presently incarcerated, having been convicted of, inter alia, the following felonies in 1994, which the Defendants now seek to have admitted: Murder in the Second Degree in violation of N.Y. Penal Law § 125.25; Conspiracy in the Second and Fourth Degrees in violation of N.Y. Penal Law §§ 105.15 and 105.10; Criminal Facilitation in the Second Degree in violation of N.Y. Penal Law § 115.05; Robbery in the First Degree in violation of N.Y. Penal Law § 160.15; Criminal Use of a Firearm in the First Degree in violation of N.Y. Penal Law § 265.09; Criminal Possession of a Weapon in the Second and Third Degrees in violation of N.Y. Penal Law §§ 265.03 and 265.02; and Hindering Prosecution in the First and Second Degrees in violation of N.Y. Penal Law §§ 205.65 and 205.60. See People v. Somerville, 249 A.D.2d 687 (3rd Dept. 1998).
The factual circumstances underlying Plaintiff's convictions, to the extent they were reported by the reviewing court on Plaintiff's direct appeal, are as follows:
On September 5, 1990, defendant [Dionisio Somerville] and Darrell Thomas conspired to rob Martin McCollum. In accordance with the prearranged plan, Thomas lured McCollum to a secluded spot in the City of Schenectady, Schenectady County, where defendant, masked and armed, robbed McCollum and feigned a robbery of Thomas.
Thereafter, on October 23, 1990 defendant, pursuant to a prearranged plan, gave Thomas a.32-caliber revolver and Thomas lured James Mannix into Vale Cemetery where he shot and killed Mannix and stole $200 from him. Defendant and Thomas divided the proceeds of the robbery and shared the considerable stash of Mannix's drugs that were secreted in Thomas' apartment.
Defendant, in an effort to deflect any suspicion that might be directed at him, thereafter made anonymous phone calls to the police, the District Attorney's office and a local television station advising that he had observed a blue Mercedes-Benz automobile drive to the entrance of Vale Cemetery, whereupon three black males exited the vehicle and entered the cemetery. Moments later, according to defendant, two black males returned to the car and drove off.
Shortly after the homicide, defendant was contacted by the police and on three different occasions over a five-day period variously stated that he did not know the victim, that he did know the victim and was with him for a period of time on October 23, 1990 and, finally, when he last saw the victim on that date, he was climbing into a blue Mercedes-Benz which then drove away.
In December 1991, defendant was arrested and charged with numerous sales of cocaine. While in jail pending disposition of the drug charges, defendant telephoned Investigator Robert McHugh, who had questioned defendant about the homicide a year earlier, and offered to act as a confidential drug informant in exchange for leniency regarding his pending charges. McHugh rejected the offer but advised that he would be interested in any further information regarding the Vale Cemetery homicide.
Ultimately, defendant agreed to provide additional information regarding the homicide as a result of which Bruce Rubin (defendant's attorney in the pending drug charges), Joseph Aponte (Rubin's paralegal and defendant's uncle), McHugh, Assistant District Attorney Phillip Mueller and three additional investigators met at the District Attorney's office on December 27, 1991. Prior to any conversation, defendant met privately with his attorney and his uncle. Defendant then gave a fourth version of his knowledge of the events of October 23, 1990, in which he added considerable detail to the third statement he previously had given the police and described an individual who he claimed was the "shooter". When defendant was advised that the individual he described had an alibi for that date, defendant became agitated and the questioning ceased while defendant consulted privately with his attorney and his uncle.
The meeting reconvened with defendant expressing a desire to continue. After being advised of his Miranda warnings, defendant proceeded to give a fifth version of his knowledge of the events of October 23, 1990. In this version, defendant admitted that his previous statements had been false. He then advised that he had loaned Thomas a gun a week before the murder. When defendant went to Thomas' house to retrieve the gun, Thomas told him he had shot Mannix in the cemetery. Defendant said that he did not believe Thomas, but he nevertheless wiped the gun of fingerprints and threw the gun and clip separately into two sewer drains, the location of which he described.
After relating this fifth version of events, defendant was advised that a plea offer would be extended if that version could be verified to the satisfaction of the District Attorney. In an effort to verify defendant's story, defendant was asked if he would submit to a polygraph test and he agreed. Defendant and his attorney further agreed that defense counsel need not be present during the test unless a written statement was to be taken. Four days later, on December 31, 1991, Investigator James Horton met with defendant for the purpose of administering the polygraph examination. During the pretest interview, while Horton was questioning defendant concerning his personal history and explaining how the polygraph machine worked, defendant broke down, admitted that all of his prior statements were false and confessed that he had planned and assisted Thomas in the murder and robbery of Mannix. In response to questioning by Horton, defendant gave a detailed version of all of the events leading up to the homicide. A written statement was not taken, however, due to the absence of defendant's attorney.
Somerville, 249 A.D.2d at 687-89.
Plaintiff seeks to preclude Defendants from introducing (and Defendants seek to have admitted) testimony and/or documentary evidence of his felony convictions for the purpose of impeaching his credibility. In the alternative, Plaintiff argues that "if the Court were to hold that it is proper to inquire about plaintiff's underlying conviction, the defense should be limited to inquiring into the fact that plaintiff is a convicted felon[.] At the very least, the defense should be limited to discussing the top count of which plaintiff was convicted." Dkt. No. 85 at 7. Plaintiff argues that the Court should preclude evidence of his felony convictions, which are twenty years old, because they are not relevant and the prejudicial effect of their admission substantially outweighs their probative value. Plaintiff contends that these remote convictions have no bearing on his credibility today. Plaintiff also notes that these convictions were the result of a single criminal transaction, and if evidence of each conviction is admitted, Plaintiff will suffer prejudice as a result of the jury learning of the quantity of crimes he was convicted of. In response, Defendants contend that the felony convictions are probative of Plaintiff's propensity to testify truthfully.
A. Legal Standards
The parties agree that Federal Rule of Evidence 609 governs the admissibility of criminal convictions for impeachment purposes in civil actions. Pursuant to this Rule, there are two ways in which such evidence may be admitted. First, Rule 609(a)(1) ...