Luce v. United States
469 U.S. 38, 105 S.Ct. 460, 83 L.Ed.2d 443 (1984)

  • Luce was arrested and charged with conspiracy and possession of cocaine.
  • At trial, Luce made an in limine motion to prohibit the prosecution from mentioning his previous conviction for drug possession during cross-examination, if he testified.
    • Luce did not say if he would testify, or what he would say if he did.
    • The prosecution argued that the evidence was admissible under FRE 609(a)(1)
    • In limine means before the judge with no jury present to hear.
  • The Trial Judge was no committal.  He refused to completely rule out the evidence of a prior conviction.
    • The Trial Judge found that whether the prior conviction was admissible or not would depend on what Luce said on the stand.
      • If Luce denied ever being involved with drugs, then the evidence would be admissible.
      • But Luce limited his testimony, then the evidence might not be admissible.
  • Luce did not testify in his own defense during the trial.
  • The Trial Court convicted Luce of drug possession.  He appealed.
    • Luce argued that the Trial Judge's refusal to completely disallow the prior conviction forced him to not testify at all, which reduced his ability to put on a defense.
  • The Appellate Court affirmed.  Luce appealed.
    • The Appellate Court found that when a defendant does not testify at trial, they will not review an in limine decision.
      • Basically, Luce would have had to testify, and the evidence of prior conviction would have had to be admitted.  Only then would the Appellate Court review whether a mistake had been made.
  • The US Supreme Court affirmed.
    • The US Supreme Court found that under FRE 609(a)(1) in order to determine if the evidence was admissible or not, you have to perform a balancing test to see if the probative value outweighs the prejudicial effect.
    • In this case, since no testimony was ever proffered, and no attempt at impeachment was made, there was no way to perform the test, and so no way to review the decision.
      • "When the defendant does not testify, the reviewing court has no way of knowing whether the Government would have sought to impeach with prior conviction."
  • Basically, because an defendant's decision to testify is seldom based on one factor, a reviewing court cannot assume that the adverse in limine ruling motivated a defendant's decision not to testify.  Therefore, it is not reviewable.
    • If the Court had ruled the other way, then all defendants would refuse to testify and have a great reason to get the case overturned on appeal if they lose.
    • On the other hand, the way things are now, the defendant can take the stand to preserve the issue, and the prosecution and cross-examine them without using the prior convictions.  Then the defendant has to submit to cross-examination but doesn't get the benefit of getting the ability to appeal.