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United States v. Darui

April 18, 2008


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Royce C. Lamberth, United States District Judge


Presently before the Court is the government's Motion [33] in Limine to Preclude the Presentation of Evidence that is Irrelevant, Immaterial, and Significantly Likely to Cause Unfair Prejudice or Confusion. Upon consideration of the motion, the opposition and reply thereto, oral arguments made at a hearing, the applicable law, and the record herein, this Court finds that the motion should be GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.


The government seeks to preclude defendant from presenting three categories of evidence: (1) historical and political issues relating to the Islamic Center (the "Center") and the Middle East; (2) defense arguments related to specific witnesses; and (3) an alleged international conspiracy aligned against the defendant. (See Mot. in Limine 1-2.) The Court will address each of these categories in turn.


A. Historical and Political Issues Relating to the Islamic Center and the Middle East

The government has identified a laundry list of controversial and politically charged historical events that defendant has referenced in his pleadings. (See id. at 5-6.) The persons and events at issue include, but are not limited to: Akbar Tabatabai (a murder victim in 1980); David Belfield (alleged Tabatabia murderer); civil disturbances, protests, and prosecutions for unlawful entry at the Islamic Center; requests from the U.S. State Department to the Islamic Center for information following September 11, 2001; and the emergence and spread of Wahhabist theology. (See id.)

Under the Federal Rules of Evidence, evidence should only be admitted if it is relevant, meaning it has "any tendency to make the existence of any fact that is of consequence to the determination of the action more probable or less probable than it would be without the evidence." FED. R. EVID. 402, 401. But, "relevant evidence may be excluded if its probative value is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice, confusion of the issues, or misleading the jury, or by considerations of undue delay, waste of time, or needless presentation of cumulative evidence." FED. R. EVID. 403. Defendant has made an insufficient showing in his opposition brief and during oral argument of how this historical and political evidence is relevant to his defense. Indeed, defendant's opposition brief was completely silent as to the government's arguments on these issues. While defendant claims that he has not conceded the inadmissibility of this evidence, he has failed to show that its probative value, if any, outweighs the obvious prejudicial effect. As such, the government's motion as to preclusion of evidence relating to historical and political issues involving the Islamic Center and the Middle East shall be GRANTED.

B. Certain Defense Arguments Related to Specific Witnesses

1. Religion and Religious Opinions

The government seeks to preclude defendant from introducing evidence as to the religious opinions of various persons who have visited or worked at the Islamic Center. Particularly, the government asserts that defendant has previously raised issues relating to the witnesses' views on: (1) a woman's right to pray with men; (2) the role of women in society; (3) polygamy; and (4) Wahhabism and radical Islam. (See Mot. in Limine 7.) As to the first two of these issues, defendant has offered no basis whatsoever that these tenets are relevant to the charges in the indictment or to his defense. As to polygamy, defendant claims that it is relevant that Islam allows multiple marriages and that Dr. Abdullah M. Khouj approves of this tenet. (Def.'s Opp'n 11.) As this Court will explain in further detail below, Khouj's alleged marriages are not only irrelevant in this criminal prosecution, but are so inflammatory that any possible probative value is clearly outweighed by the prejudicial effect. Moreover, Federal Rule of Evidence 610 clearly mandates that "[e]vidence of the beliefs or opinions of a witness on matters of religion is not admissible" to show "the witness' credibility is impaired or enhanced." The government's motion as to women's rights in the Islamic faith and polygamy is therefore GRANTED.

Finally, as to evidence on Wahhabism and radical Islam, defendant argues that this evidence is crucial to his defense that he was paying informants to provide information used to protect the Center from a takeover. (See Def.'s Opp'n 11.) At no time, however, has defendant proffered that Khouj authorized any payments to informants or that he even had knowledge of such transactions. Without demonstrating that the payments were authorized, defendant's alleged endorsement of employee checks to informants constitute unlawful acts. For these reasons, defendant shall be precluded from raising any issues related to Wahhabism, radical Islam, or payments to informants until he establishes the relevance of these issues through affirmative evidence presented during his own case-in-chief. See United States v. Lin, 101 F.3d 760, 768 (D.C. Cir. 1996) (acknowledging that a trial court is within its discretion to limit cross-examination on prejudicial matter without reasonable grounding in fact); United States v. Sampol, 636 F.2d 621, 663-64 (D.C. Cir. 1980) (holding that the trial court properly limited cross examination of an alleged CIA murder scheme until defense put forth sufficient evidence of the affirmative defense in its case-in-chief); United States v. Stamp, 458 F.2d 759, 773 (D.C. Cir. 1971) (finding that the trial court was proper in "not allowing the defense to cross-examine [the witness] with respect to matter only relative to an affirmative defense and not brought into the case on direct").

2. Polygamy and Marital Infidelity

The government further moves for an order precluding defendant from presenting evidence related to Khouj's marital fidelity. Defendant argues that he is entitled to inquire about Khouj's relationships with two women, Debbi Estrada and Noufissa Zouhri, who allegedly resided in defendant's apartment buildings. (See Def.'s Opp'n 10-11.) Defendant asserts that Khouj's relationships with these two women are material to his defense because they serve the basis for Khouj's debt to defendant. (See id. at 11.) In light of these facts, the Court will permit defendant to inquire only as to Khouj's financial support of these women and whether he maintained a serious relationship with them. Defendant will not be permitted, however, to present any evidence as to Khouj's marital or sexual relations with these women or any other polygamous activity. First, defendant has not demonstrated how the fact of Khouj's marital fidelity is relevant to the charges in the indictment. Second, evidence of polygamous activity is clearly so inflammatory in nature that when its probative value is weighed ...

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