Ballou v. Henri Studios, Inc
656 F.2d 1147 (1981)

  • Ballou was killed in a traffic accident with one of Henri’s trucks.  Ballou’s relatives sued Henri for damages for wrongful death.
  • At Trial, Henri attempted to introduce evidence that Ballou was drunk at the time of the accident.
    • Ballou’s relatives made a motion in limine to exclude the evidence.
      • A motion in limine means that you are making the objection to the judge before the opposing side begins presenting the evidence in court.
        • You want to know whether the information is admissible or not because you want to prepare for trial better.
        • This is the opposite of a contemporaneous objection, where, in the middle of testimony, a lawyer says, “Stop!  I object!”
    • Henri had a forensic report saying that Ballou’s blood alcohol level was high.
    • Ballou’s relatives had the testimony of a person who spoke to Ballou a few minutes before the car accident, saying that he didn’t appear drunk.
      • They also refuted the accuracy of the forensic test.
  • The Trial Judge excluded the evidence based on FRE 403.
    • FRE 403 says that a court may exclude evidence if its probative value is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice.
      • The Trial Judge felt that the forensic analysis lacked credibility on the basis of the testimony of Ballou’s witness.
  • The Trial Court found for Ballou.  Henri appealed.
  • The Appellate Court vacated the judgment and ordered a new trial on the grounds that the evidence had been improperly excluded.
    • The Appellate Court felt that the determination of who’s evidence was more credible (Henri’s blood test vs. Ballou’s witness) was a decision that a jury should make, not the Trial Judge.
    • The Appellate Court agreed that the results of the forensic analysis could be prejudicial to a jury, but that “all evidence is prejudicial or it isn’t material.”  That’s the point of evidence.  FRE 403 should only come into effect when the evidence is somehow ‘unfair’.
      • Ballou’s relatives would be allowed to present their argument that the forensic analysis was flawed, but the analysis itself should not be excluded solely on the basis that it might influence the jury.