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United States v. Gaudet

United States District Court, D. Maine

October 26, 2017

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
WILLIAM GAUDET, Defendant.

          ORDER ON DEFENDANT'S MOTION IN LIMINE

          George Z. Singal United States District Judge.

         Before the Court is Defendant William Gaudet's Comprehensive Motion in Limine Regarding Exclusion/Limitation of Evidence at Trial (ECF No. 45). For the following reasons, the Court DENIES IN PART, GRANTS IN PART, and DEFERS RULING IN PART on the Motion.[1]

         I. BACKGROUND

         Defendant William Gaudet is charged in a two-count indictment with Transportation with Intent to Engage in Criminal Sexual Activity, 18 U.S.C. § 2423(a), and Travel with Intent to Engage in Illicit Sexual Conduct, 18 U.S.C. § 2423(b). These charges arise from Defendant's alleged transporting of his minor daughter, T.G., between Maine and Pennsylvania in May and July of 2010 with the intent to engage in criminal sexual activity with her. Defendant has moved to limit or exclude certain evidence at trial.[2]

         II. ANALYSIS

         A. Testimony of T.G. Regarding Prior Incidents of Abuse

         The Government intends to present testimony by the named victim about prior incidents in which Defendant subjected her to sexual abuse. Defendant asks the Court to exclude this evidence at trial because it is “not admissible under Rules 403, 404, 413, 414, or otherwise.” (Def.'s Mot. in Limine (ECF No. 45), PageID # 92.) The Government persuasively provides several reasons why this evidence is admissible, including that the prior conduct is not extrinsic to the charged offenses, or, in the alternative, that the prior conduct can be introduced pursuant to Federal Rule of Evidence 404(b) as evidence of motive or intent.[3] (Gov't Response (ECF No. 54), PageID # 132-33.) However, the best support for admission of the evidence is Federal Rule of Evidence 414, which provides,

In a criminal case in which a defendant is accused of child molestation, the court may admit evidence that the defendant committed any other child molestation. The evidence may be considered on any matter to which it is relevant.

         Fed. R. Evid. 414(a).[4]

         It is well established that “Rule 414 removes Rule 404(b)'s blanket ban on propensity inferences in child-molestation cases.” United States v. Jones, 748 F.3d 64, 70 (1st Cir. 2014). “This Rule 414 evidence remains subject to Rule 403's balancing between probative value and unfair prejudice.” United States v. Joubert, 778 F.3d 247, 254 (1st Cir. 2015). But “district courts must apply Rule 403 with awareness that [Rule 414] reflects a congressional judgment to remove the propensity bar to admissibility of certain evidence.” Martínez v. Cui, 608 F.3d 54, 60 (1st Cir. 2010) (specifically discussing Rule 415, which removes the bar to propensity evidence in civil cases involving sexual assault or child molestation). Federal Rule of Evidence 403 provides that a “court may exclude relevant evidence if its probative value is substantially outweighed by a danger of, ” among other considerations, “unfair prejudice.”

         Applying Rule 403 to testimony by T.G. concerning prior incidents of abuse by Defendant, the Court concludes that the evidence's probative value is not substantially outweighed by a danger of unfair prejudice. To the contrary, the evidence of other incidents of abuse is highly probative- the prior incidents involve the named victim and may shed light on Defendant's motive or intent regarding the charged offenses-and any danger of unfair prejudice can be mitigated by a proper limiting instruction. See United States v. Majeroni, 784 F.3d 72, 75 n.3 (1st Cir. 2015) (approving this Court's use of limiting instructions when evidence of a defendant's prior conviction for possession of child pornography was admitted in evidence pursuant to Rule 414). For these reasons, the Court DENIES Defendant's Motion to the extent it seeks to exclude T.G.'s testimony about prior incidents in which Defendant allegedly subjected her to sexual abuse. This denial is WITHOUT PREJUDICE to Defendant renewing any objection to this evidence at trial.

         B. Testimony of T.G. Regarding Her Observations of Physical and Sexual Abuse of J.D.G. by Defendant

         The Government also intends to present a “limited amount” of testimony by T.G. regarding observations she made of physical and sexual abuse of her mother, J.D.G., by Defendant. The Government seeks to introduce this evidence “to show that it caused T.G. to fear the Defendant and explain why she did not report her own abuse for years, despite similar reports by her older sisters and the incarceration of the Defendant.”[5] (Gov't Response, PageID # 134.) Defendant argues that this evidence “is not admissible under Rules 403, 404, 413, 414, or otherwise.” (Def.'s Mot. in Limine, PageID # 92.)

         Assuming for purposes of deciding Defendant's Motion that the presentation of such evidence would be within the ambit of Rule 413, the Court concludes, pursuant to Rule 403, that the evidence's probative value is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice to Defendant. On the one hand, the probative value of the evidence regarding J.D.G. is relatively limited: although testimony by T.G. about her mother's abuse could help explain any unwillingness on T.G.'s part to report her own abuse, Defendant's abuse of J.D.G. is not clearly relevant to his propensity to abuse his own daughter or to his intentions in taking his daughter across state lines. On the other hand, testimony about Defendant's abuse of J.D.G. poses a clear risk of inflaming the jury against Defendant. See Jones, 748 F.3d at 71 (explaining that evidence can be unfairly prejudicial if it “cause[s] the jury to condemn a defendant based on passion or bias [or causes a jury who is unsure of guilt to] convict[] anyway because it believes the other-crimes evidence shows the defendant is an evildoer who must be locked up.”) (footnote omitted). The Court also notes that T.G. could testify to her fear of Defendant without testifying about abuse of her mother. Given these considerations, the Court GRANTS Defendant's Motion to ...


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