This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (1998).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
State of Minnesota,
Cleophas NMN Pratt,
Filed January 25, 2000
Ramsey County District Court
File No. K0982989
Mike Hatch, Attorney General, 525 Park Street, Suite 500, St. Paul, MN 55103; and
Susan Gaertner, Ramsey County Attorney, Jeanne L. Schleh, Assistant County Attorney, Suite 315, 50 West Kellogg Boulevard, St. Paul, MN 55102 (for respondent)
John M. Stuart, State Public Defender, Lawrence W. Pry, Assistant Public Defender, 2829 University Avenue SE, Suite 600, Minneapolis, MN 55414 (for appellant)
Considered and decided by Shumaker, Presiding Judge, Lansing, Judge, and Halbrooks, Judge.
U N P U B L I S H E D O P I N I O N
Appellant Cleophas Pratt appeals from his conviction for making terroristic threats. He contends that there is insufficient evidence to support a rational inference that he intended to terrorize the victim, a Ramsey County District Court judge. Additionally, Pratt contends that the trial court erred in admitting Spreigl evidence. We affirm.
Appellant Cleophas Pratt was arrested by a St. Paul police officer for disorderly conduct at the Dayton’s department store in St. Paul. Pratt was held for two days at the Ramsey County adult detention center pending his first appearance in district court. Pratt was the first defendant on the arraignment calendar for Monday, August 10, 1998. A Ramsey County District Court judge presided over the arraignment calendar and an assistant St. Paul attorney represented the city.
When Pratt’s case was called, he was informed of the disorderly conduct charge. The assistant St. Paul attorney tab-charged a count of misdemeanor theft based on the information in the police reports. The attorney explained that if Pratt pleaded guilty to one of the charges she would dismiss the other count. Pratt refused the offer and pleaded not guilty. The judge asked the assistant St. Paul attorney what her position was regarding bail, and she recommended $700. Pratt indicated that he did not have the resources to pay bail. The judge agreed with the recommendation and set bail at $700. Pratt was then given a date for his next hearing and escorted from the courtroom.
Almost immediately thereafter, the judge had Pratt’s case recalled when he realized that Pratt was entitled to a trial within 10 days because Pratt had indicated that he was unable to make bail. When Pratt was brought back into the courtroom, he was given a new date. The judge attempted to explain the reason for the new date, but Pratt interrupted him. Pratt stated, "You guys are playing these sh-t games with me." The judge asked Pratt to refrain from using profanity in the courtroom. After the judge finished explaining the reason for the earlier date, Pratt said, "Well, sh-t, I’m going to plead guilty then." The judge determined that given the circumstances he could not accept Pratt’s plea.
A Ramsey County sheriff’s deputy escorted Pratt from the courtroom a second time. As soon as he was out of the courtroom, Pratt stated to the deputy, "That mother f--ker set bail at $700." Pratt then demanded to be told the name of the judge. The deputy did not respond to Pratt’s demand. Pratt then made a gun-like gesture with his hand and said, "I’m going to put a bullet in that mother f--ker’s head." The deputy testified that Pratt made this statement with force, conviction, and "fire in his eyes." Pratt was then placed in a holding cell outside of the courtroom.
Approximately 20 to 30 minutes later, the deputy had contact with Pratt again. Pratt stated, "I’m going to get even with that f--ker. I’m going to kill his ass, I swear to f--king God I am!" and "I’ll go down in history in Minnesota."
The deputy took the threats seriously. He contacted his supervisor, informed the assistant St. Paul attorney of the threats, and immediately prepared a written report. During a break in the arraignment calendar, the deputy and his supervisor notified the judge of the threats and gave him a copy of the report. The judge asked the deputies to provide him with copies of Pratt’s booking photo for his chambers and home. The judge testified at trial that he took the threats very seriously. He also said that he has changed his habits regarding where he enters and exits the courthouse and has stopped wearing his judicial robe in the hallway because of the threats.
Shortly after the judge was notified of the threat, another deputy arrived to escort Pratt from the holding cell back to the adult detention center. When he was informed that he would be charged with making terroristic threats, Pratt replied, "I meant what I said when I said I will put a bullet in the judge’s head." When the deputy told Pratt to start walking down a hall to return to the adult detention center, Pratt turned toward the deputy and said, "The judge might not be the only one. Next time you guys see me in jail it will be for some real serious sh-t."
Later that evening, Pratt was transferred from the adult detention center to the St. Paul police jail annex for booking on the terroristic threat charge. When the booking officer asked Pratt what had happened in court, Pratt became upset and made a gun-like gesture with his hand. He said, "I’m going to get in trouble with my hand. This will get me into trouble when I cap you." He then added, "You think I’m joking, don’t you?" The booking officer testified that he interpreted the remarks as a threat to kill and stated that they were different from the threats often made by intoxicated individuals brought in for booking.
The terroristic threats charge was tried to a jury on October 26-27, 1998. The state presented the testimony of the judge, the assistant St. Paul attorney, and four of the sheriff’s deputies who had witnessed the threats. Pratt did not present any evidence. His lawyer argued that the state failed to prove that Pratt possessed the requisite intent to have committed this crime. The jury found Pratt guilty, and Pratt was later sentenced to 28 months in prison.
D E C I S I O N
I. Sufficiency of the evidence
Pratt contends that there is insufficient evidence to support his conviction for terroristic threats. Specifically, Pratt argues that the state failed to prove that he intended to terrorize the judge as required by Minn. Stat. § 609.713, subd. 1 (1998). That statute makes it a felony for one to threaten "directly or indirectly, to commit any crime of violence with purpose to terrorize another * * * or in a reckless disregard of the risk of causing such terror." Id. This court must determine whether the evidence, "viewed in a light most favorable to the conviction," was sufficient to permit the jury to reach the verdict that it did. State v. Webb, 440 N.W.2d 426, 430 (Minn. 1989).
To be convicted of terroristic threats, the defendant must "utter the threat with the purpose of terrorizing another." State v. Schweppe, 306 Minn. 395, 400, 237 N.W.2d 609, 614 (1975). Purpose, as it is used in this statute, means intent, aim or objective. Id. "Intent * * * is a subjective state of mind usually established only by reasonable inference from surrounding circumstances." Id. at 401, 237 N.W.2d at 614. Although there was no direct evidence that Pratt intended to terrorize the judge, the state did introduce substantial circumstantial evidence as to Pratt’s intent.
First, Pratt made numerous threats over the course of several hours to the sheriff’s deputies. In Schweppe, the court held that the defendant’s threats to the victim’s friends and acquaintances was circumstantial evidence of the defendant’s specific intent that those threats reach the victim. Id. at 400, 237 N.W.2d at 614. The Schweppe court also held that the jury could conclude that such threats demonstrated that "at the very least [the defendant] recklessly risked the danger that his threats would be communicated and thereby would terrorize [the victim]." Id. at 400-01, 237 N.W.2d at 614. The jury could reasonably infer from Pratt’s conscious decision to repeat the threats to the deputies that he was at least reckless regarding the likelihood that his threats would be conveyed to the judge.
Second, the state introduced evidence of the effect the threat had on the judge. This is circumstantial evidence of intent. Skyes v. State, 578 N.W.2d 807, 811 (Minn. App. 1998), review denied (Minn. July 16, 1998). Ludwig testified that the judge appeared concerned when he was informed of the threats, and the judge testified that the threats did in fact concern him and that he took them very seriously. Additionally, the judge changed his routine of coming and going to the courthouse, and he has also stopped wearing his judicial robes in the courthouse hallways.
Third, the context in which the repeated threats were made provides additional circumstantial evidence of intent or recklessness. Because Pratt made the threats to sheriff’s deputies, members of the criminal justice system, he had reason to know that the threats would be communicated to the judge. Schweppe, 306 Minn. at 400-401, 237 N.W.2d at 614. The jury could reasonably conclude, based on this evidence, that Pratt intended to terrorize the judge or that he was reckless as to the likely consequence of his threats.
Pratt also contends that his statements were only expressions of transitory anger, i.e., short-lived anger that by its nature is not intended to terrorize. See, e.g., State v. Taylor, 264 N.W.2d 157, 160 (Minn. 1978) (Sheran, C.J. dissenting) (indicating the terroristic threat statute was not intended to penalize verbal threats expressing "transitory anger"); State v. Jones, 451 N.W.2d 55, 63 (Minn. App. 1990) (same), review denied (Minn. Feb. 21, 1990). The evidence introduced at trial, however, does not support Pratt’s claim of transitory anger. Pratt threatened the judge several times over the course of several hours. His anger was not short-lived, and it manifested itself in specific threats on the life of the judge. Those threats were taken seriously by the sheriff’s deputies and the judge.
There is sufficient evidence to support Pratt’s conviction for making terroristic threats.
II. Introduction of Spreigl evidence
"Rulings on evidentiary matters rest within the sound discretion of the trial court." Caldwell v. State, 347 N.W.2d 824, 826 (Minn. App. 1984) (citation omitted). An appellate court "will not reverse a trial court’s admission of evidence of other crimes or bad acts unless an abuse of discretion is clearly shown." State v. Scruggs, 421 N.W.2d 707, 715 (Minn. 1988) (citation omitted).
The state sought to introduce Spreigl evidence of five other similar acts alleged to have been committed by Pratt. Following the prosecution’s presentation of its other evidence, the trial court heard arguments on the admissibility of this evidence. It ultimately concluded that only one of the "bad acts" would be admissible. Specifically, the trial court indicated that it would admit evidence regarding Pratt’s threats to the booking officer on August 10, 1998, while Pratt was being booked for the terroristic threats charge.
One of the requirements for the admission of Spreigl evidence is the state’s need for the evidence. State v. Bolte, 530 N.W.2d 191, 197 (Minn. 1995). The trial court found that the evidence presented by the state was "extremely strong." Pratt contends that this finding should have prevented the trial court from admitting the threat made to the booking officer. But the state’s need for Spreigl evidence
is not necessarily the absence of sufficient other evidence to convict, nor does exclusion [of Spreigl evidence] necessarily follow from the conclusion that the case is sufficient to go to the jury. A case may be sufficient to go to the jury and yet the [Spreigl evidence] may be needed because, as a practical matter, it is not clear that the jury will believe the state’s other evidence bearing on the disputed issue. The trial court generally is in a better position than an appellate court to evaluate the reasonableness of and need for [Spreigl] evidence in a particular case.
Id. at 197 n.2.
The state argues that it had strong evidence regarding the content of the threats, but not of Pratt’s intent. It contends that the booking officer’s testimony about the threat he received is evidence of intent and contradicts Pratt’s claim of transitory anger.
This court has previously upheld the admission of Spreigl evidence for the purpose of proving intent and rebutting claims of transitory anger in terroristic threat cases. See, e.g., State v. Skramstad, 433 N.W.2d 449, 454 (Minn. App. 1988), review denied (Minn. Mar. 13, 1989); State v. Fischer, 354 N.W.2d 29, 33 (Minn. App. 1984), review denied (Minn. Dec. 20, 1984). The state is correct in asserting that although there was strong evidence as to the content of the threats, the evidence regarding Pratt’s intent was wholly circumstantial. Furthermore, the Spreigl evidence does rebut Pratt’s defense of transitory anger. It shows a pattern of threats over the course of several hours.
This court has also held that a trial court’s admission of Spreigl evidence is not an abuse of discretion if the incidents are "close in time and in modus operandi." State v. Lavastida, 366 N.W.2d 677, 679 (Minn. App. 1985). The incident involving the booking officer occurred only a few hours after the threats regarding the judge were made, and the modus operandi was similar. When that officer asked Pratt why he was back in jail, Pratt replied, "I’m going to get in trouble with my hand." While saying this, Pratt made a gun-like gesture with his hand. A similar gesture was made earlier in the day during one of the threats directed at the judge. Id. (holding that admission of incident where defendant pulled his finger across his throat and drew the dull side of a knife blade across his own throat was appropriate because of similarity to the charged threat).
The trial court’s decision to permit testimony by the booking officer regarding Pratt’s threat was not an abuse of discretion.