Rehearing and Rehearing En Banc Denied May 20, 1988.
BOWMAN, Circuit Judge.
James Jones, the plaintiff in this 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action for damages, appeals from a judgment entered by the District Court
Jones testified that he stopped in the park to inspect an unusual noise coming from the rear of his vehicle. When shortly thereafter gunshots were fired by an unknown assailant and a bullet shattered the back windshield of his car, he jumped into his automobile and drove out of the park. A chase ensued. Only after leaving the park did he become aware that some of the vehicles following him were police cars.
According to Jones, when the chase ended he stopped his automobile and stepped out, putting his hands in the air. While he was behind the door on the driver's side of his vehicle, the police began firing at him, but none of the bullets struck either him or the car door. Two police officers, Gerald McFadden and Lawrence Stevens, approached Jones without weapons in their hands. They struck him, threw him to the ground, handcuffed him, and while he was lying there someone shot him in the groin.
Defendants' version of the incident is very different. The four police officers named as defendants were assigned to a special detail in O'Fallon Park. Defendants McFadden and Terran Williams were dressed in plain clothes and were operating an unmarked police car. Soon after entering the park, McFadden and Williams passed a black Cadillac driven by Jones. A black man was in the car with him. The Cadillac turned around and pulled up next to the police car, its occupants looking in at the two officers. When the Cadillac pulled away, they decided to follow it.
After rounding a curve, the Cadillac parked near the front of a white Buick. The officers stopped their car and observed the scene with an infrared scope. Jones got out of the Cadillac and walked toward the Buick, holding either a rifle or a shotgun. Jones forced the passenger to get out of the Buick and walk toward the Cadillac.
At this point, McFadden radioed that there was a robbery in progress. He and Williams drove closer to the scene. Using the door of the police car as a shield, McFadden ordered Jones to halt and identified himself as a police officer. Jones fired one shot in McFadden's direction, then turned and fired at another police car that just had arrived. The occupants of this second car, Officers Stevens and Antoinette Lee, ducked as their windshield shattered.
Jones jumped into the Cadillac and sped away. The police followed in hot pursuit, the Cadillac never leaving their sight except for two or three seconds as they rounded a corner. Both McFadden and Stevens fired shots at the Cadillac during the chase.
The Cadillac's flight ended at a police roadblock. It approached the roadblock at a high rate of speed, racing toward a police car driven by Officer Michael Johnson. Johnson and his partner leapt out of their car and Johnson fired three shots at the windshield of the Cadillac.
The Cadillac pulled to the curb. Jones jumped out and started to run. The police fired a number of shots at him from the blockaded intersection. McFadden approached Jones on foot, advising him that he was a police officer and that Jones was under arrest. Jones struggled with McFadden in an attempt to escape, and McFadden struck him with his fist three times. Coming to McFadden's aid, Stevens grabbed and struck Jones. Together the officers placed handcuffs on him. None of the officers fired any shots at Jones after he was handcuffed.
After subduing Jones, the officers discovered that he had suffered a gunshot
Jones was charged with robbery, was tried, and was acquitted. Thereafter, he filed this action against McFadden, Williams, Lee, and Stevens, and against the members of the Board of Police Commissioners of the City of St. Louis, alleging that defendants had deprived him of his liberty without due process of law. Specifically, Jones alleged that the police officers used excessive force in arresting him and that they shot him while he was handcuffed and lying on the ground. At trial, the District Court granted a directed verdict for the Board of Police Commissioners, and the jury returned a verdict for the remaining defendants. The District Court denied plaintiff's motion for a new trial and entered judgment for all defendants.
For reversal, Jones argues that the trial court erred by (1) denying his motion for new trial on the ground that the verdict is contrary to the clear weight of the evidence; (2) failing properly to instruct the jury concerning the officers' liability for use of excessive force; and (3) denying his motion in limine to exclude evidence of his record as a convicted felon and allowing this evidence to be admitted for the purpose of impeaching his credibility as a witness. We affirm.
Jones argues that the verdict is contrary to the clear weight of the evidence and that the District Court therefore abused its discretion by denying his motion for a new trial. "The denial of a motion for a new trial is within the sound discretion of the trial court, and its ruling will be reversed only upon a showing that the court abused its discretion."
Jones contends that the District Court committed plain error by failing to instruct the jury that law enforcement officers may be liable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for using excessive force in completing an arrest. The challenged instruction provided:
Jury Instruction No. 11. Jones argues that this instruction permitted the jury to make an unguided determination regarding the validity of defendants' acts under state law.
When a particular jury instruction is assigned as error, the reviewing court must determine whether the instructions, taken as a whole and viewed in light of the evidence and the applicable law, fairly and adequately submitted the issues in the case to the jury. Swift v. R.H. Macy's & Co., 780 F.2d 1358, 1360-61 (8th Cir.1985). Because Jones's trial counsel made no objection to instruction 11, our review must be limited to determining whether the error, if any, is plain error in the sense that it has produced a miscarriage of justice. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 51; Rogers v. Rulo, 712 F.2d 363, 368 (8th Cir.1983), cert. denied, 464 U.S. 1046, 104 S.Ct. 719, 79 L.Ed.2d 181 (1984). The plain error exception is quite narrow and is confined to the exceptional case where the error seriously affected the fairness or the integrity of the trial. Rogers, 712 F.2d at 368.
Reviewing the instructions as a whole, in light of the evidence and the applicable law, we cannot say that instruction 11 constituted plain error. Instruction 10, as well as 11, informed the jury that Jones had a right not to be deprived of liberty without due process of law. Using the expressions "unprovoked," "without just cause or excuse," "maliciously," "wantonly," and "oppressively," instruction 17A correctly described the type of conduct that constitutes excessive force. Although instruction 11 standing alone would not give the jury sufficient guidance, we are satisfied, in view of the other instructions, that the rigorous requirements for reversal under the plain error standard of review have not been met in this case.
Jones argues that the District Court abused its discretion by denying his motion in limine to exclude evidence of his convictions for robbery, rape, and forcible sodomy. Plaintiff argues that the District Court had a duty under Federal Rules of Evidence 403 and 609 to balance the probative value of this evidence against the potential for prejudice, and that the absence of a hearing on the motion in limine or any record of the court's balancing constitutes reversible error. Jones similarly asserts error with regard to the admission, during his cross-examination, of all his prior convictions, and he particularly emphasizes his view that it was unfair to allow the jury to learn of his rape and forcible sodomy convictions.
Federal Rule of Evidence Rule 609(a) provides:
With regard to the admissibility of Jones's convictions, Rule 609(a)(1) is clearly not applicable in the present case. Assuming arguendo that the Rule does apply to civil cases — and we are not convinced that it does — it is not helpful to Jones as he is the plaintiff in this case. Although at least one other circuit has extended the balancing test of Rule 609(a)(1) to plaintiffs in civil cases, see Petty v. Ideco, 761 F.2d 1146, 1152 (5th Cir.1985), we do not believe that this decision can be reconciled with the unambiguous wording of Rule 609(a)(1). The plain language of the Rule simply cannot be read to mean anything other than that the Rule applies only when to admit evidence of prior convictions for impeachment purposes might unduly prejudice "the defendant." Thus, a plaintiff has no standing to invoke Rule 609(a)(1), even if the Rule was intended to apply in civil cases, which we seriously doubt.
We turn to Federal Rule of Evidence 403, which provides:
Rule 403 is a "rule of exclusion that cuts across the rules of evidence." Shows v. M/V Red Eagle, 695 F.2d 114, 118 (5th Cir.1983) (citation omitted). In keeping with that broad view of Rule 403, we have held that Rule 609 does not preclude the application of Rule 403's balancing test to evidence of prior convictions offered for impeachment purposes. See, e.g., Radtke v. Cessna Aircraft Co., 707 F.2d 999, 1000 (8th Cir.1983); Czajka v. Hickman, 703 F.2d 317, 319 (8th Cir.1983). Contra Campbell v. Greer, 831 F.2d 700, 707-08 (7th Cir.1987). In this Circuit, it thus is possible, at least in theory, that evidence of prior convictions admissible under Rule 609 without any balancing test could be excluded under the balancing test of Rule 403.
Under Rule 403, the District Court was required to weigh the probative value of the evidence of Jones's criminal record against the danger of unfair prejudice, but was empowered to exclude this evidence only if the court decided that its probative value was substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice. A trial court's ruling as to the admissibility of evidence will not be disturbed unless there is a clear and prejudicial abuse of discretion. See
While it would have been preferable for the trial court to have made a record of its balancing of the probative value of Jones's convictions against the danger of unfair prejudice, its failure to do so is harmless when "the substantial rights of the parties" are not affected. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 61. Cf. Czajka, 703 F.2d at 319. By denying Jones's motion in limine to exclude the evidence of his convictions, the Court necessarily responded to his claims of prejudice. We are satisfied that the Court's failure to make a record of its balancing of probative value against danger of unfair prejudice did not affect Jones's substantial rights.
Jones raises other issues. We have carefully considered them and find them to be without merit. Accordingly, the judgment of the District Court is affirmed.