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United States v. Perrault

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

March 25, 2019




         THIS MATTER comes before the Court on Mr. Perrault's Motion in Limine to Exclude Evidence Pursuant to Fed.R.Evid. 404(b), 413, and 414, [Doc. 40]. The Court heard arguments on this Motion on March 21, 2019. Having reviewed the briefs, oral arguments, relevant law, and being otherwise fully informed, the Court finds that the motion will be DENIED in part, as to the Rule 413/414 evidence. The Court will RESERVE its ruling with regards to the 404(b) evidence.

         This matter was addressed at length by a previous Notice of Hearing with respect to this motion wherein the Court outlined the background of the instant motion and legal standard for the admissibility of the proposed evidence. Doc. 103. The Court also conducted a preliminary Rule 413/414 analysis, finding that the evidence meets admissibility under Rules 413/414. The Court then held a hearing on March 21, 2019 for counsel to address the balancing of the probative value and prejudicial effect of this evidence under Rule 403. The Court concludes, for the reasons set forth below, the probative value of the proposed 413/414 evidence is not substantially outweighed by unfair prejudice, and the evidence will thus be admitted.


         I. Preliminary Finding of Admissibility

         Under Rule 413(a) of the Federal Rules of Evidence, “[i]n a criminal case in which a defendant is accused of sexual assault, the court may admit evidence that the defendant committed any other sexual assault. The evidence may be considered on any matter to which it is relevant.” Fed.R.Evid. 413(a). Any evidence offered under Rule 413 must meet three threshold requirements before a court can admit it. United States v. Guardia, 135 F.3d 1326, 1328 (10th Cir. 1998). A district court must determine: (1) that the defendant is accused of an offense of sexual assault; (2) that the evidence proffered is evidence of the defendant's commission of another offense of sexual assault; and (3) that the evidence is relevant. Id. Evidence is relevant if it has any tendency to make the existence of any fact of consequence “more or less probable than it would be without the evidence.” Fed.R.Evid. 401. Rule 414 is identical to Rule 413 except that it deals specifically with similar crimes in child-molestation cases. Fed.R.Evid. 414. The three threshold requirements under Rule 414 are identical to those under Rule 413, except that the 414 requirements pertain to child molestation. United States v. McHorse, 179 F.3d 889, 897-98 (10th Cir. 1999).

         Here, Mr. Perrault is charged with six counts of Aggravated Sexual Abuse and one count of Abusive Sexual Contact. The government seeks to admit evidence that Mr. Perrault “engaged in sexual acts with minors under the age of 12 and minors who were over 12, but under 16, ” which qualifies as sexual assault and child molestation under 18 U.S.C. chapter 109A. Doc. 45 at 6. The evidence proffered thus meets the second threshold requirement under Rules 413/414. This evidence is relevant to establish that Mr. Perrault “has a propensity for abusing young boys” [Id. at 7] and to rebut Mr. Perrault's defense that John Doe 1 is not credible. In particular, evidence of the alleged misconduct with the other eight children is being offered to show that Mr. Perrault engaged in similar behavior as he did with John Doe 1, thereby decreasing the likelihood that the case will be an “unresolvable swearing match” between Mr. Perrault and John Doe 1. See United States v. Enjady, 134 F.3d 1427, 1431 (10th Cir. 1998). In support of its Intent to Offer Evidence Pursuant to Fed.R.Evid. 404(b), 413, and 414, the government has proffered extensive evidence as to the nature of the allegations of the other eight uncharged victims, including Federal Bureau of Investigation 302 Reports and individual depositions[1] for each John Doe, as well of several of Mr. Perrault's own statements in which he admits to sexually abusing other children. Doc. 43 at 9; Doc. 44. The Court is therefore satisfied that the three threshold requirements for admissibility under Rules 413/414 have been met.

         II. Rule 403 Balancing

         Trial courts must next balance the evidence's probative value against its prejudicial effect under Rule 403. Rule 403 requires a court to exclude the evidence if it concludes that the probative value of the similar crimes evidence is outweighed by the risk of unfair prejudice. Enjady, 134 F.3d at 1433. However, the Tenth Circuit has held that the exclusion of relevant evidence under Rule 403 “should be used infrequently, ” based on Congress' intent that Rule 414 favors admissibility. Id. See also United States v. Meacham, 115 F.3d 1488, 1492 (10th Cir. 1997) (Noting that although 403 balancing applies, under Rule 414 “courts are to ‘liberally' admit evidence of prior uncharged sex offenses.”). Because Congress intended that these rules favor admissibility, the typical prejudice associated with these prior sexual acts will not be enough to outweigh the probative value.

         In the context of sexual assault cases, Rule 403 balancing requires that the court consider:

(1) how clearly the prior act has been proved; (2) how probative the evidence is of the material fact it is admitted to prove; (3) how seriously disputed the material fact is; and (4) whether the government can avail itself of any less prejudicial evidence. Enjady, 134 F.3d at 1433 (citation omitted). When evaluating the probative dangers, Enjady also instructs the court to consider: (1) how likely it is that the evidence will contribute to an improperly-based jury verdict; (2) the extent to which the evidence will distract the jury from the central issues of the trial; and (3) how time consuming it will be to prove the prior conduct. Id.

         a. Enjady Factors

         i. How Clearly the Prior Act has Been Proved

         With respect to the first factor, under Rules 413/414, the district court must make a preliminary finding that “a jury could reasonably find by a preponderance of the evidence that the ‘other act' occurred.” Id. This preponderance of the evidence standard is a low standard that ensures that the evidence in question is relevant. United States v. Edwards, 282 F.Supp.3d 1270, 1278 (D.N.M. 2017) (citing Huddleston v. United States, 485 U.S. 681, 689 (1988)). The Tenth Circuit has held that the “district court need not make detailed factual findings in support of its Rule 403 determination.” United States v. Castillo, 140 F.3d 847, 884 (10th Cir. 1998). However, it must “fully evaluate the proffered Rule 413 [or Rule 414] evidence and make a clear record of the reasoning behind its findings.” Id. (citing Guardia, 135 F.3d at 1331).

         In this case, the government has provided Mr. Perrault and the Court with statements in the form of FBI 302 reports and other written materials including, in all but two cases (John Does 2 and 8) depositions from each of the victims describing the specific abuse they experienced. In addition to the written material that was submitted to the Court, the Court also heard testimony from FBI Special Agent Christina Sandoval at the March 21 hearing. The Court is satisfied that the written materials provided coupled with Agent Sandoval's testimony are sufficient to conclude that the government has met the preponderance of the evidence standard.

         The evidence shows that the John Does cross-corroborate each other. Several John Does also have additional forms of corroboration. For example, John Doe 3 made statements to his mother and wrote a contemporaneous letter following his alleged abuse. John Does 5 and 6's mother corroborated that they disclosed the alleged abuse and stated that Mr. Perrault admitted to her that he touched them at least once. Furthermore, Mr. Perrault's own statements provide corroboration in his admissions that he knew John Doe 1, that John Doe 1 was his altar boy for daily mass, and that he took John Doe 1 in his personal car on at least a few occasions. Furthermore, Mr. Perrault admitted that he abused John Doe 8, admitted that he may have abused more than one boy, and in his letter to the King of Morocco, stated that he would have to admit to abusing a plural number of teens. The Court therefore concludes, ...

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