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United States v. Kelly

United States District Court, S.D. Georgia, Brunswick Division

October 18, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
v.
STEPHEN MICHAEL KELLY, et al.,

          ORDER

          HON. LISA GODBEY WOOD, JUDGE.

         The Government and Defendants filed several pretrial motions, notices, objections, and supporting memoranda related to Defendants' affirmative defenses and the scope of evidence to be presented at trial. See Dkt. No. 637. The Magistrate Judge issued an Order ruling on those filings, ordering that at trial Defendants may not assert the following defenses: justification, necessity, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the First Amendment, or that nuclear weapons are illegal under international law or domestic law. Id. The Magistrate Judge also denied Defendants' motions to take judicial notice of certain facts related to these defenses. Id. The Magistrate Judge further ruled that Defendants' religious and moral beliefs are not relevant to the intent requirements of the offenses charged against Defendants in this action. The Magistrate Judge denied the portion of the Government's motion in limine seeking to exclude all evidence relating to the lethality of nuclear weapons, the presence of such weapons at Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay, monitoring of alarm systems, the size and location of security teams, and the policies and procedures governing the use of force on Kings Bay.

         Defendants objected to and moved for reconsideration of the Magistrate Judge's Order. Dkt. Nos. 640, 649, 654, 655, 660, 661, 665, 666, 669, 670. In their Objections, Defendants also asked, in the alternative, whether certain witnesses would be permitted to testify and whether any witnesses would be permitted to testify on certain topics (e.g., religion and the immorality or illegality of nuclear weapons) if the Magistrate Judge's Order were affirmed.

         The Court held a pretrial conference in the matter on October 16, 2019. At that conference, the Court directed the parties to meet and confer regarding the witnesses and topics Defendants described in their Objections to the Magistrate Judge's Order, and to inform the Court if the parties could reach any agreement about those witnesses and topics. The parties complied with that directive but were unable to reach any agreements. Defendants have filed additional briefing on these issues. Dkt. Nos. 672, 673, 677, 679, 680, 681, 682, 683, 684, 686. The Court also ordered the Government to file any response to the Defendants' Objections to the Magistrate Judge's Order, and it has now done so. Dkt. No. 678. One Defendant filed a reply brief related to these issues. Dkt. No. 685. Thus, Defendants' Objections to the Magistrate Judge's Order, as well as their requests for direction on whether certain witnesses may testify and the permissible areas of testimony, are now ripe for review.

         DISCUSSION

         I. Defendants' Objections and Motions for Reconsideration

         A district judge must consider a party's timely objections to a magistrate judge's order on a pretrial matter. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A). Here, all objections were made in a timely manner. The Court has undertaken a de novo review of all matters to which objections were made. Based on this review, the Court CONCURS with the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation and ADOPTS the Report and Recommendation, dkt. no. 637, with respect to the parties motions. Specifically, the Court finds as follows:

1. The Government's objection, dkt. no. 613, to Defendants' Notices of Intent to Raise a defense under the RFRA, dkt. nos. 532, 546, 560, 551, 570, 581, 592, is SUSTAINED.
2. The Defendants' Motion in Limine on the application of the RFRA to the statutory element of the offenses, dkt. no. 540, 541, 556, 566, 572, 588, 584, is DENIED.
3. The Government's objection, dkt. no. 613, to Defendants' Notices of Intent to raise a defense under the First Amendment, dkt. no. 536, 539, 555, 565, 568, 579, 587, is SUSTAINED.
4. The Government's Motion in Limine, dkt. no. 530, is GRANTED IN PART. That portion of the Government's motion seeking to exclude evidence related to affirmative defenses of justification or necessity is GRANTED. However, the government's motion under Rule 401 of the Federal Rules of Evidence seeking to exclude all evidence relating to the lethality of nuclear weapons, their presence on Kings Bay, monitoring of alarm systems, the size and location of security teams, and policies and procedures governing the use of force on Kings Bay is DENIED. Pursuant to the Magistrate Judge's findings, Defendants shall be permitted to introduce such evidence if they “demonstrate some permissible purpose under the Federal Rules of Evidence[]and such evidence is admissible under the Rules, ” dkt. no. 637 at 22-23.
5. The Government's objection, dkt. no. 613, to Defendants' Notices of Intent to raise the defense of necessity, dkt. nos. 542, 544, 557, 561, 573, 583, 589, is SUSTAINED.

         Additionally, “[a]lthough no statute or rule expressly provides for the filing of a motion for reconsideration in criminal cases, federal district courts necessarily have substantial discretion in ruling on motions for reconsideration.” United States v. Brown, No. CR114-025, 2014 WL 6616997, at *1 (S.D. Ga. Nov. 21, 2014) (citing United States v. Saintvil, No. 1:12-cr-285, 2013 WL 6196523, at *2 (N.D.Ga. Nov.27, 2013)). “Courts have largely relied on the standards applicable to motions for reconsideration in civil cases to adjudicate reconsideration motions in criminal cases.” United States v. Sabooni, No. 09-20298-CR, 2014 WL 4385446, at *1 (S.D. Fla. Sept. 4, 2014) (citing United States v. Pugh, 426 Fed.Appx. 876, 876 (11th Cir. 2011) (noting that the same standard of review applies to orders on both criminal and civil motions to reconsider)). “The appropriate grounds for granting reconsideration include: (1) an intervening change in controlling law; (2) the availability of new evidence; or (3) the need to correct clear error or manifest injustice.” Brown, 2014 WL 6616997, at *1 (citing United States v. Sabooni, No. 09-20298-CR, 2014 WL 4385446, at *1 (S.D. Fla. Sept. 4, 2014)). In the criminal context, “motions to reconsider . . . should not simply rehash previously litigated issues and must be used sparingly.” Sabooni, 2014 WL 4385446, at *1 (internal citation and punctuation omitted).

         Defendants' filings do not state the precise grounds upon which they seek reconsideration, but could, at most, be construed to argue that the Magistrate Judge's Order was based on clear error or manifest injustice. However, Defendants do not meet the standard and instead seek to “rehash” previously litigated issues. Defendants do not point to ...


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