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United States v. Harriman

United States District Court, N.D. Iowa, Eastern Division, Waterloo

January 16, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
JASON TROY HARRIMAN, Defendant.

          ORDER

          C.J. WILLIAMS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This matter is before the Court on Jason Troy Harriman's (“defendant”) motion in limine (Doc. 48) and on defendant's Motion to Take Trial Testimony Via Videoconferencing (Doc. 50). The government timely resisted both motions. (Docs. 53, 54). For the following reasons, defendant's motion in limine (Doc. 48) is denied in part and held in abeyance in part, and defendant's motion to take testimony via videoconferencing (Doc. 50) is granted.

         Defendant was indicted on two counts of murder for hire, one of which charged defendant with hiring an undercover law enforcement officer (“UC”) to murder defendant's ex-wife-D.H.-and one of which charged defendant with hiring that same UC to murder D.H.'s boyfriend-A.W. (Doc. 2). The indictment further states that defendant took steps to hire the UC while defendant was incarcerated in Forest City Federal Correctional Institution (“Forest City”). (Id., at 1). Defendant now seeks to exclude evidence of his prior convictions and of prior violent actions taken by defendant against D.H. (Doc. 48). Defendant also seeks leave of Court to permit a material witness to provide trial testimony via videoconference, instead of appearing personally. The Court will consider each motion in turn.

         I. MOTION IN LIMINE

         Defendant's motion in limine seeks to exclude four categories of evidence under Federal Rules of Evidence 403 and 404(b):

1) Evidence, including underlying facts, of defendant's January 6, 1997 convictions for burglary in the second degree and kidnapping in the third degree;
2) Evidence, including underlying facts, of defendant's April 18, 2006 conviction for assault;
3) Evidence, including underlying facts, of defendant's April 21, 2007 conviction for domestic abuse assault; and
4) Evidence that defendant attempted to murder his ex-wife, D.H., on September 27, 2009.

         The government asserts that it does not intend, at this time, to introduce evidence of defendant's April 18, 2006 conviction for assault. (Doc. 53, at 1). As such, the Court holds defendant's motion in limine in abeyance to the extent defendant seeks to exclude evidence regarding the 2006 assault conviction. Should the government later wish to introduce evidence of the 2006 assault conviction, or the underlying facts, the government must alert the Court and defense counsel first; defendant may then renew his motion at that time. The Court will address each of the remaining three categories of evidence in turn.

         Federal Rule of Evidence 403, in relevant part, permits the Court to “exclude relevant evidence if its probative value is substantially outweighed by a danger of . . . unfair prejudice . . ..” Rule 404(b) provides that “[e]vidence of a crime, wrong, or other act is not admissible to prove a person's character in order to show that on a particular occasion the person acted in accordance with the character.” Fed.R.Evid. 404(b)(1). Such evidence may, however, be admissible to prove motive, opportunity, intent, preparation, plan, knowledge, identity, absence of mistake, or lack of accident. Fed.R.Evid. 404(b)(2). For Rule 404(b) evidence to be admissible, “[t]he evidence must be 1) relevant to a material issue; 2) similar in kind and not overly remote in time to the crime charged; 3) supported by sufficient evidence; and 4) higher in probative value than prejudicial effect.” United States v. Williams, 534 F.3d 980, 984 (8th Cir. 2008) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted).

         As to the first category of evidence, defendant's 1997 convictions for burglary of D.H.'s residence and kidnapping D.H., defendant argues only that the convictions are too remote in time to be admissible, and that evidence of the convictions would be more prejudicial than probative. The 1997 convictions occurred approximately twenty-one years prior to the conduct giving rise to the instant charges. (See Doc. 53, at 5). The government asserts that these convictions are not overly remote in time because the 1997 convictions represent the first acts “in a long and continuing string of violence and threats directed by defendant toward[ ] D.H.” (Id.). In determining whether a prior conviction is too remote in time to be admissible, the Court imposes a reasonableness standard, evaluating the facts and circumstances of each case. United States v. Walker, 470 F.3d 1271, 1275 (8th Cir. 2006). “Whether the conviction is close in time to the charged offense is one factor indicating the relevancy of the evidence, but there is no specific number of years beyond which prior bad acts are no longer relevant to the issue of intent.” Id. (citation and internal quotation marks omitted).

         The Court finds that the 1997 convictions are not so remote in time as to mandate their exclusion from evidence. The 1997 convictions, stemming from violent acts directed at D.H., are relevant to defendant's intent to harm D.H., which, in turn, is relevant to defendant's intent to hire an individual to kill D.H. Further, because defendant allegedly committed a number of violent acts against D.H. between the 1997 conviction and the conduct charged in the instant indictment, the Court finds that defendant's intent in committing the 1997 crimes was not necessarily rendered stale in the interim. That is, defendant's repeated course of violent conduct against D.H. shows that defendant's alleged intent to harm D.H. likely continued, if it ever existed, from 1997 through May 2018, instead of manifesting on two separate occasions over a period of twenty-one years. The Court therefore rejects defendant's argument that evidence of the 1997 convictions should be excluded for being too remote in time.

         With respect to defendant's request to exclude evidence of defendant's alleged attempt to murder and kidnap D.H. in 2009, the Court finds introduction of the underlying conduct giving rise to the 2009 charges proper. The Court understands the government's position to be that the government will not seek to introduce evidence of the charges against defendant-of which defendant was ultimately acquitted-nor will the government seek to elicit testimony as to whether D.H. believed defendant intended to murder D.H. (Doc. 53, at 5). The government asserts that it intends only to elicit testimony from D.H. as to “what happened revolving around defendant breaking into her home and holding her ‘hostage' while holding a knife to her throat and resulting in her throat being cut.” (Id.). Because the government only intends to introduce evidence concerning the underlying conduct and not the subsequent charges or court proceedings, the government need only prove ‚Äúthat the act occurred and ...


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