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
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
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.