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United States v. Gatlin

United States District Court, S.D. Florida

July 3, 2019

JASON GATLIN, Defendant.



         This matter is before the Court on the United States of America's (the “Government”) motion in limine to exclude inadmissible and irrelevant evidence pursuant to Federal Rules of Evidence 401, 402, 403, and 412. [D.E. 21]. Jason Gatlin (“Defendant”) responded to the Government's motion on June 21, 2019. [D.E. 41]. Therefore, the Government's motion is now ripe for disposition. After careful consideration of the motion, response, relevant authority, and for the reasons discussed below, the Government's motion is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The Government charged Defendant with sex trafficking of a minor from November 26, 2018 through November 30, 2018 in violation of Title 18, United States Code Sections 1591(a)(1) and (b)(1), and production of child pornography on November 11, 2018 in violation of Title 18, United States Code Section 2251(a).[1] The charges relate to an incident that occurred on November 30, 2018, where a 17-year-old female (“Minor A”) called 911 and reported that she had been kidnapped, attacked, and had locked herself in a restroom of a gas station in Monroe County, Florida. The Monroe County Sheriff's Office responded to the call and observed that Minor A had lacerations on her lips, a large knot on the center of her forehead, and that her clothing was unkempt and ripped. Defendant fled the scene prior to the arrival of law enforcement and Minor A was transported to a local hospital.

         Minor A initially told law enforcement that she met Defendant a few days earlier. However, over the course of multiple interviews, she met Defendant through another 17-year-old female (“Minor B”) during the month of October 2018. Defendant and Minor B had a sexual relationship. Shortly after meeting, Minor A and Defendant began a sexual relationship in October 2018. Minor A was 17 and Defendant was 42 when they first met. Minor A stated that she and Defendant had sexual intercourse numerous times and that Defendant would regularly provide her with drugs to smoke.

         Minor A further stated that, sometime during her relationship with Defendant, he spoke with her about having sex with other individuals for money. Defendant explained to Minor A how to post advertisements on the internet and rented motel rooms so that Minor A could perform commercial sex acts. Minor A would give the money earned from these acts to Defendant. During Minor A's last stay in a motel, Defendant allegedly struck her in the face when she did not have enough money to give to him. Defendant then transported Minor A to Monroe County, where she continued to perform commercial sex acts while residing in a house with Defendant.

         Defendant then transported Minor A to Monroe County, where she continued to perform commercial sex acts while residing in the same house as Defendant. Minor A stated that she did not want to stay with Defendant, but that Defendant would not permit her to leave. Minor A also stated that she told Defendant that she would call the police for holding her against her will if he did not return her to Miami-Dade County. Defendant then purportedly struck Minor A in the face and kicked her. Minor A stated that, at some point, she became unconscious during this assault and that Defendant eventually agreed to transport her back to Miami-Dade County. During the trip, on November 30, 2018, Minor A stated that she asked Defendant to use the bathroom. Defendant stopped at a gas station and Minor A locked herself inside the bathroom and called law enforcement. Law enforcement responded to the call and Minor A was recovered.

         On December 3, 2018, the Miami-Dade Police Department arrested Defendant at a motel in Miami based on probable cause that Defendant had engaged in sex trafficking and unlawful sexual activity with a minor in violation of Florida law. During a search incident to arrest, law enforcement located an Apple iPhone in Defendant's pocket. The phone was searched pursuant to a federal search warrant. The search revealed sexually provocative images of Minor A, a video of Minor A that appeared in an online advertisement, and a video that depicted a male vaginally penetrating a female with his penis without showing the individuals' faces. Law enforcement showed the video of the individuals having sex to Minor A and she confirmed that she was the female and that Defendant was the male in the video. Minor A stated that Defendant recorded the video while they were having sex using his iPhone in Monroe County.[2]

         After the Government filed its complaint in this case, the United States Attorney's Office and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”) learned that, on January 25, 2019, Minor A provided a sworn recorded statement to an assistant public defender at the Miami-Dade County Public Defender's Office. In the statement, Minor A reported that she never had sexual intercourse with Defendant and that Defendant never trafficked her. During the FBI's investigation of the recantation statement, the FBI discovered that, on March 4, 2019, Minor A provided a sworn recorded statement to a detective with the Miami-Dade Police Department about her recantation. Minor A stated that she recanted her statement to law enforcement because Defendant's mother paid her money and gave her a place to stay. Minor A confirmed that the recantation that she made at the Public Defender's Office was a lie, that Defendant trafficked her, and that the two had sex.

         The FBI then reviewed Defendant's recorded jail conversations with both Minor A and his mother around the time of Minor A's recantation statement, and the recordings corroborate Minor A's statement on March 4, 2019. After Minor A was recovered, she was placed in a residence with other minor females. On May 1, 2019, the FBI received a report that, on April 19, 2019, law enforcement arrested Minor A for striking a 14-year-old female in her residence.

         II. ANALYSIS

         The Government seeks to limit or exclude four items at trial: (1) the prior or subsequent sexual activity of any witness or victim, (2) Minor A's battery arrest, (3) the drug or alcohol use of any witness, and (4) Minor A's mental health history. Defendant opposes the relief sought for a variety of reasons, namely because the Government failed to support its arguments with any evidence. We will discuss the arguments presented in turn.

         A. Prior or Subsequent Sexual Activity

         The first issue is whether any evidence of prior or subsequent sexual activity as to Minor A or any other witness should be excluded at trial. Defendant argues that the exclusion of Minor A's prior sexual history would be arbitrary and disproportionate to the purposes that Rule 412 was designed to serve because the evidence is relevant, will not confuse the jury, nor harass the victim. Defendant claims, for example, that Minor A's sexual proclivity is probative as to whether she was a victim of sex trafficking and whether she continued to engage in prostitution before or after she met Defendant. Defendant also takes issue with the Government's request to exclude the sexual history of any witness at trial because the Government did not articulate the relevant witnesses - making it impossible for Defendant to respond in any meaningful way.

         Federal Rule of Evidence 412(a) provides that, in general, in a “criminal proceeding involving alleged sexual misconduct, ” “[e]vidence offered to prove that any alleged victim engaged in other sexual behavior” is inadmissible. Defendant argues, however, that this case fits within the narrow exception to the general rule because the exclusion of Minor A's sexual history “would violate the constitutional rights of the defendant.” Fed.R.Evid. 412(b)(1)(C). “In determining the admissibility of a victim's other sexual behavior under Rule 412(b)(1)(C), we start with the premise that defendants have a constitutional right under the Fifth and Sixth Amendments to introduce evidence in their defense.” United States v. Pumpkin Seed, 572 F.3d 552, 559 (8th Cir. 2009).

         However, “the right to present relevant testimony is not without limitation.” Rock v. Arkansas, 483 U.S. 44, 55 (1987). For instance, “trial judges retain wide latitude . . . to impose reasonable limits on [testimony] based on concerns about, among other things, harassment, prejudice, confusion of the issues, the witness' safety, or interrogation that is repetitive or only marginally relevant.” Delaware v. Van Arsdall, 475 U.S. 673, 679 (1986). Limitations on a defendant's constitutional right to present evidence are ...

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