Federal Rules of Evidence News Highlights: Recent Federal Cases Interpreting Rules 401, 403, 404, 414, 702, 801, 802, 803, & 805

December 14, 2016

4541Recent issues of the Federal Rules of Evidence News have highlighted a number of federal court opinions addressing issues under the Federal Rules of Evidence, including:

  • Rule 401. Test for Relevant Evidence; Rule 403. Excluding Relevant Evidence for Prejudice, Confusion, Waste of Time or Other Reasons. On an appeal to the Seventh Circuit, following a conviction for unlawful possession of a firearm by a felon, and based on testimony by the arresting officers that they saw a gun fall out of the defendant’s pants and that he confessed to possessing the gun, the court held that a fingerprint examiner was properly allowed to testify that it is extremely uncommon to recover fingerprints from a firearm as this testimony helped the jury to decide how much weight to give the fact that no prints were found. U.S. v. Common, 818 F.3d 323, 100 Fed. R. Evid. Serv. 13 (7th Cir. 2016).
  • Rule 401. Test for Relevant Evidence; Rule 403. Excluding Relevant Evidence for Prejudice, Confusion, Waste of Time or Other Reasons & Rule 702. Testimony by Expert Witnesses. In the appeal of an action by a manufacturer of ground beef products and its insurer against a raw beef supplier for breach of contract and warranties based on the supplier’s sales of raw beef tainted with Escherichia coli (E. coli), the Eighth Circuit found that the district court properly permitted the introduction of expert testimony by epidemiology professors that identified the supplier as the source of the tainted beef based on their analysis of molecular data which connected the case patients to the outbreak of E. coli, state health department records and supply chain traceback data. The court also found that it was not error for the district court to admit an original and revised Notice of Intended Enforcement (NOIE) and the supplier’s response thereto, as the NOIE broadly addressed the supplier’s sanitation program and found that the supplier failed to meet certain sanitation requirements almost as often as it had met them. American Home Assur. Co. v. Greater Omaha Packing Co., Inc., 819 F.3d 417, 100 Fed. R. Evid. Serv. 26 (8th Cir. 2016).
  • Rule 403. Excluding Relevant Evidence for Prejudice, Confusion, Waste of Time or Other Reasons; Rule 404. Character Evidence; Crimes or Other Acts. In the appeal of a conviction for being a felon in possession of a firearm, possession of heroin with intent to distribute and carrying a firearm during and in relation to a drug-trafficking crime, the Eighth Circuit concluded that the district court properly admitted evidence of a 1996 state felony conviction for possession of heroin with intent to deliver as the defendant denied possessing or distributing heroin and denied any knowledge of the heroin recovered from his vehicle, which placed his state of mind at issue and rendered his prior conviction for delivery of heroin probative of his knowledge and intent to commit the charged heroin- related offense. U.S. v. Ellis, 817 F.3d 570 (8th Cir. 2016).
  • Rule 403. Excluding Relevant Evidence for Prejudice, Confusion, Waste of Time, or Other Reasons; Rule 404. Character Evidence; Crimes or Other Acts. On an appeal to the Fourth Circuit following a conviction for kidnapping, interstate domestic violence and possession of a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence, which arose from an incident in which the defendant kidnapped his estranged wife, spent a night with her in a hotel and coerced her to have sex with him, the court found that evidence was properly introduced regarding two prior incidents, one of which involved the defendant approaching his wife with a gun and laughing when she asked if he was going to kill her, and the other involving the defendant’s attack on his wife and their daughter. The court explained that the evidence was relevant to issues other than character or propensity and that the probative value of the evidence was not substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice. U.S. v. Faulls, 821 F.3d 502 (4th Cir. 2016).
  • Rule 403. Excluding Relevant Evidence for Prejudice, Confusion, Waste of Time, or Other Reasons; Rule 414. Similar Crimes in Child Molestation Cases. In the appeal of a conviction federal-rules-of-evidence-3dfor aggravated sexual abuse of a minor, interstate transportation of child pornography, brandishing a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence and being a felon in possession of a firearm, the Seventh Circuit held that the prosecution was properly permitted to present evidence regarding the sexual abuse of a second minor victim as the evidence was probative of the defendant’s propensity to commit the charged crime and as there was no undue risk of unfair prejudice. The court further found that the absence of a limiting instruction was not improper both because the defendant did not request such an instruction and because such an instruction was not required. U.S. v. Resnick, 823 F.3d 888 (7th Cir. 2016).
  • Rule 702. Testimony by Expert Witnesses. In a products liability action brought by family members of a motorist, who died from injuries sustained in an accident in which her vehicle struck a municipal truck from the rear, against the manufacturer of an allegedly defective underride guard that was fitted on the truck, the First Circuit held that an expert witness for the plaintiffs was properly permitted to testify regarding a feasible alternative design for the underride guard. The court rejected the defendant’s argument that the expert failed to actually test the alternative design, either physically or using computer modeling on the basis that (1) there is no rule that an expert himself must have tested an alternative design, much less by building one, and (2) the expert did do some testing. Quilez-Velar v. Ox Bodies, Inc., 2016 WL 2621133 (1st Cir. 2016).
  • Rule 702. Testimony by Expert Witnesses. On appeal to the First Circuit in an action brought by a pipefitter/refrigerator technician against a paint manufacturer after he developed acute promyelocytic
    leukemia that he alleged was caused by workplace exposure to a benzene-containing paint product, the court upheld the exclusion of the plaintiff’s general causation expert on the basis that the district court properly rejected all three theories presented in the expert’s proposed testimony. Milward v. Rust-Oleum Corp., 820 F.3d 469 (1st Cir. 2016).
  • Rule 801. Definitions That Apply to This Article; Exclusions from Hearsay; Rule 802. The Rule Against hearsay; Rule 803. Exceptions to the Rule Against Hearsay—Regardless of Whether the Declarant Is Available as a Witness; Rule 805. Hearsay Within Hearsay. In a pro se action by a prison inmate under 42 U.S.C.A. § 1983 in which the inmate alleged that he was deprived of meals and physically assaulted by correctional officers, the Second Circuit overturned a jury verdict in favor of the inmate based on its conclusion that it was error for the district court to allow the introduction of a report prepared by the Correctional Association of New York regarding prison conditions at the correctional facility in which the inmate was incarcerated as the report did not qualify under the hearsay exceptions for business records or public records, and as it also contained hearsay within hearsay. Abascal v. Fleckenstein, 820 F.3d 561 (2d Cir. 2016).

The Federal Rules of Evidence News is a monthly newsletter published by Thomson Reuters to keep you current with case summaries of recent federal appellate and trial court decisions construing the Federal Rules of Evidence. The newsletter is authored by our Editorial staff. The author of this post is it’s legal editor. You may also want to check out the Federal Rules of Evidence Service.