United States District Court, D. Minnesota
ORDER ON MOTIONS IN LIMINE
Wilhelmina M. Wright United States District Judge
matter is before the Court on Plaintiff United States of
America's seven motions in limine, (Dkts. 41, 42, 43, 44,
45, 46, 47), and Defendant Brett Palkowitsch's four
motions in limine, (Dkts. 60, 62, 64, 77). The Court
addresses each motion in turn.
The United States's Motions
United States moves to exclude five categories of the
proposed testimony of Mark Bruley, Palkowitsch's
use-of-force expert. (Dkt. 41.) Specifically, the United
States seeks to exclude: (1) testimony as to
Palkowitsch's mental state; (2) testimony that
Palkowitsch's use of force was “lawful, ”
“reasonable, ” or “appropriate;” (3)
testimony referencing otherwise inadmissible evidence; (4)
testimony instructing the jury on the legal standard
governing Palkowitsch's use of force; and (5) testimony
resolving disputed issues of fact.
Testimony Regarding Palkowitsch's Mental State
United States moves to preclude Bruley from offering an
opinion on Palkowitsch's mental state at the time of the
incident at issue in this case. Rule 704(b) of the Federal
Rules of Evidence provides that, “[i]n a criminal case,
an expert witness must not state an opinion about whether the
defendant did or did not have a mental state or condition
that constitutes an element of the crime charged or of a
defense. Those matters are for the trier of fact
alone.” Palkowitsch is charged with violating 18 U.S.C.
§ 242. To convict Palkowitsch under that statute, the
United States must prove beyond a reasonable doubt four
elements, including that Palkowitsch acted willfully. In
other words, the United States must prove that Palkowitsch
acted with the “specific intent to deprive [Frank
Baker] of his constitutional rights.” United States
v. Boone, 828 F.3d 705, 711 (8th Cir. 2016). Because
Palkowitsch's mental state is an element of the charged
offense, the United States's motion is granted as to
opinions pertaining to Palkowitsch's mental state.
Testimony Whether Palkowitsch's Use of Force Was
United States moves to prohibit Bruley from testifying as to
the reasonableness of Palkowitsch's use of force against
Baker because it is an impermissible legal conclusion. While
statements of legal conclusions that are not grounded in a
fact-based opinion may properly be excluded, see Peterson
v. City of Plymouth, 60 F.3d 469, 475 (8th Cir. 1995),
“[a]n opinion is not objectionable just because it
embraces an ultimate issue, ” Fed.R.Evid. 704(a). For
expert testimony to be admissible, however, it must be
helpful to the trier of fact. Fed.R.Evid. 702(a); Lee v.
Anderson, 616 F.3d 803, 808 (8th Cir. 2010). Opinions
that merely tell the jury the result to reach are not
admissible. Lee, 616 F.3d at 809 (citing Fed.R.Evid.
704 advisory committee's note). Here, the ultimate
question is whether Palkowitsch's use of force against
Baker was reasonable. Allowing Bruley to testify as to the
reasonableness of Palkowitsch's use of force would
necessarily allow opinion testimony that merely tells the
jury the result to reach. This fact, without more, does not
render such testimony inadmissible. But testimony about the
reasonableness of Palkowitsch's use of force is not
otherwise helpful and, therefore, not admissible. For this
reason, the United States's motion is granted as to
opinions pertaining to the reasonableness of
Palkowitsch's use of force.
Testimony Referencing Inadmissible Evidence
United States moves to (1) preclude Bruley from testifying
that Baker uses illicit narcotics and (2) exclude hearsay
statements made by unspecified officer-witnesses that appear
in Bruley's report.
relevant evidence is admissible. See Fed. R. Evid.
402. Whether Baker uses illicit narcotics has no tendency to
make a fact of consequence as to Palkowitsch's guilt any
more or less probable. See Fed. R. Evid. 401.
Therefore, such testimony is irrelevant and inadmissible.
the unspecified officer-witness statements that the United
States seeks to exclude, such statements have not been
identified or described with any particularity. Palkowitsch
does not dispute that “[a]ny opinion that [an] expert
is called upon to provide to the jury must be based upon the
evidence that is actually admitted at trial.” The
doctrine of judicial ripeness “safeguards against
judicial review of hypothetical or speculative
disagreements.” Neb. Pub. Power Dist. v.
MidAmerican Energy Co., 234 F.3d 1032, 1038 (8th Cir.
2000). Here, the Court is left to speculate whether
Palkowitsch will introduce inadmissible hearsay statements
through Bruley's testimony and, if so, what those
statements may be.
the motion of the United States is granted to the extent that
it seeks to exclude testimony about Baker's alleged use
of illicit narcotics. But the motion is denied to the extent
that it seeks to exclude unspecified officer-witness hearsay
statements. Objections to specific hearsay statements will be
resolved in the course of trial.
Testimony Instructing the Jury on the Legal Standard
United States moves to preclude Bruley from instructing the
jury on the legal standard governing the use of force by law
enforcement and testifying about Minnesota's use-of-force
laws and their application to this case.
testimony on legal matters is not admissible.” S.
Pine Helicopters, Inc. v. Phoenix Aviation Managers,
Inc., 320 F.3d 838, 841 (8th Cir. 2003). “Matters
of law are for the trial judge, and it is the judge's job
to instruct the jury on them.” Id. The legal
standard governing Palkowitsch's use of force against
Baker is a legal question. It is the Court's role, and no
one else's, to instruct the jury on the law.
relevant evidence is admissible. See Fed. R. Evid.
402. Minnesota laws governing the use of force by police
officers and whether those laws were violated in this case
are not relevant. Cf. Screws v. United States, 325
U.S. 91, 108 (1945) (explaining that, in a
deprivation-of-rights case, “[t]he problem is not
whether state law has been violated but whether an inhabitant
of a State has been deprived of a federal right by one who
acts under ‘color of any law” and “[t]he
fact that [the officer's action] is also a violation of
state law does not make it any less a federal offense
punishable as such”).
the United States's motion is granted as to testimony
about the legal standards and Minnesota laws governing the
use of force by law enforcement.
Testimony Resolving Disputed Issues of Fact
United States moves to exclude opinion testimony by Bruley
that purports to resolve disputed factual issues. Expert
testimony is admissible only if it is helpful to the finder
of fact. Fed.R.Evid. 702. Testimony that tells the jury the
result it should reach-or the facts it should find-is not
admissible. See Lee, 616 F.3d at 809. “[T]here
is a critical distinction between an expert testifying that a
disputed fact actually occurred . . . and an expert giving an
opinion based upon factual assumptions, the validity of which
[is] for the jury to determine.” Thomas v.
Barze, 57 F.Supp.3d 1040, 1059 (D. Minn. 2014) (internal
quotation marks omitted). “The former is manifestly
improper, the latter is not.” Id. (concluding
that the expert's report is inadmissible because
“it includes both statements that directly opine on
what factually occurred, and otherwise permissible expert
opinions which are too intertwined with Defendants'
version of events and fail to clarify that
assumption”). For these reasons, the United
States's motion is granted to the extent that
Bruley's testimony shall not include statements that
directly opine on whether a disputed fact occurred and shall
not provide any opinion without clarifying that his opinion
is based on factual assumptions that comport only with
Palkowitsch's version of events.
United States moves to exclude certain character evidence,
namely, evidence of specific instances of conduct
demonstrating Palkowitsch's good character, such as
awards or positive evaluations, and any other character
evidence that is “calculated to ...