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United States v. Jones

United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, Southern Division

September 15, 2017

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
ULYSSES JONES, JR., Defendant.

          ORDER ON GOVERNMENT'S MOTIONS IN LIMINE

          GREG KAYS, CHIEF JUDGE.

         Pending before the Court are five Government motions in limine: The Government's First Motion in Limine to Preclude “Proportionality” Evidence and Argument (Doc. 169); the Government's Second Motion in Limine to Preclude “Mercy” Instruction (Doc. 292); the Government's Third Motion in Limine to Preclude Capital Punishment Opinion Evidence (Doc. 293); the Government's Fourth Motion in Limine to Preclude Residual Doubt Argument (Doc. 294); and the Government's Motion in Limine in Response to Defense Disclosures (Doc. 341).

         After carefully considering the parties' arguments, the Court rules as follows.

         1.The motion to exclude “proportionality” evidence and argument is GRANTED.

         In the event this case reaches a penalty phase, the Government moves to preclude Defendant from introducing evidence or arguing that the death sentence should not be imposed because the facts surrounding Timothy Baker's murder are less egregious than those in other cases where a death sentence was not imposed.

         The Court holds that comparative proportionality evidence is not proper mitigation evidence. The Court also holds the probative value of such evidence or argument is outweighed by the danger of creating unfair prejudice, confusing the issues, and misleading the jury because introducing such evidence will inevitably result in mini-trials debating the facts of past death penalty cases. United States v. Umana, No. 3:08CR134-RJC, 2010 WL 1740487, at *4 (W.D. N.C. Apr. 28, 2010) (rejecting mitigation factors that would amount to proportionality review because evidence was “irrelevant to [the defendant's] character or the circumstances of the offense, and is likely to confuse and mislead the jury”). The Court also notes a sister court in this district precluded such evidence in a recent capital murder trial. See United States v. Coonce, et al., No. 10-3029-02-CR-S-GAF, (W.D. Mo. Mar. 12, 2014), ECF No. 558.

         The motion is GRANTED.

         2. The motion to preclude a “mercy” instruction is TAKEN UNDER ADVISEMENT.

         In its second motion in limine, the Government moves to preclude Defendant from offering a so-called “mercy” instruction; that is, an instruction advising the jury that regardless of its findings with respect to aggravating and mitigating factors, it is never required to impose a death sentence. The Government objects to any instruction that the jury may disregard the aggravating and mitigating factors analysis and impose a sentence less than that justified by their deliberations.

         Defendant responds by acknowledging that the Eighth Circuit held a district court did not abuse its discretion in declining to give a mercy instruction, the Supreme Court affirmed a case in which a similar jury instruction was purportedly used. See United States v. Allen, 247 F.3d 741, 780 (8th Cir. 2001). Defendant also notes that a district court in the Western District of Tennessee that gave a mercy instruction noted several other cases where mercy instructions were given, and that none of these instructions were reversed on appeal. See United States v. Hayes, 265 F.Supp.2d 914, 923 (W.D. Tenn. 2003). Defendant also argues the Court should decline to rule on the propriety of giving a mercy instruction until after a specific, proposed instruction is submitted for the Court's consideration.

         Although the Court is skeptical of any instruction that would suggest the jury could disregard the aggravating and mitigating factors analysis, the Court declines to rule on this motion in limine until a specific proposed instruction is filed.

         3. The motion to exclude opinion evidence about the death penalty is GRANTED.

         The Government moves to preclude any defense witness from expressing his or her opinion as to an appropriate sentence, requesting Defendant not be given a death sentence, or providing a non-expert opinion about how Defendant will conduct himself in prison in the future.

         Such evidence is inadmissible. See Bosse v. Oklahoma, 137 S.Ct. 1, 1 (2016). Accordingly, the motion is GRANTED. Should this case reach the penalty phase, no witness called by either ...


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