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Fed. R. Evid. 404(b) allows for prior bad act evidence if the other act is relevant to a specific purpose other than the person's character or propensity to behave in a certain way.
Kasey Burton, who had an active warrant of arrest for driving on a suspended license, was pursued by the City of Zion police officers. She did not pull over but instead drove her car toward her home while following all speed limits and traffic laws. Upon arriving at her home, Burton exited her car, but one of the officers brought Burton to the ground by incorrectly executing a “straight-arm take down.” Another police officer placed his knee on Burton’s back as he handcuffed her and then dragged her away. Burton sued the City of Zion and the police officers involved, claiming that the officers used excessive force in executing her arrest in violation of her Fourth Amendment rights. At trial, Burton testified that she did not immediately pull over because of her experience with a Zion police officer in 2008, who used unnecessary force in arresting her in a separate incident. The City of Zion filed a motion in limine, asking that any evidence regarding Burton's 2008 encounter with a City of Zion’s police officer be omitted from evidence. The district court granted the motion. Burton appealed.
Did the district court correctly grant the City’s motion in limine to exclude any evidence regarding Burton's 2008 encounter with a City of Zion’s police officer?
The court held that the district court erred in granting a city and officers' motion in limine in a 42 U.S.C.S. § 1983 excessive force action, disallowing evidence of Burton’s prior encounter with one of the officers during which she was improperly tasered to explain why she proceeded to a place with witnesses before she complied with a traffic stop, because the evidence was admissible under Fed. R. Evid. 404(b) to show the officer's knowledge of Burton’s previous frightening and painful encounter. On remand, the district court was to balance the probative value of the prior stop evidence against the potential prejudice pursuant to Fed. R. Evid. 403, keeping in mind the extent to which prejudice could be mitigated by appropriate jury instructions.