This opinion will be unpublished and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
James Michael Karst,
Filed October 17, 2000
Otter Tail County District Court
File No. K5-99-264
Mike Hatch, Attorney General, Robert A. Stanich, Assistant Attorney General, 525 Park Street, Suite 500, St. Paul, MN 55103; and
David J. Hauser, Otter Tail County Attorney, Courthouse, 121 Junius Avenue, Fergus Falls, MN 56537 (for respondent)
John M. Stuart, State Public Defender, Susan J. Andrews, Assistant State Public Defender, 2829 University Avenue Southeast, Suite 600, Minneapolis, MN 55414-3230 (for appellant)
Considered and decided by Klaphake, Presiding Judge, Lansing, Judge, and Schumacher, Judge.
Following a jury trial, appellant James Karst was convicted of third-degree assault under Minn. Stat. § 609.223, subd. 1 (1998). Appellant admitted at trial to punching the victim and breaking his nose, but claimed that he was acting in self-defense. On appeal, he argues that the trial court abused its discretion when it ruled that (1) appellant could be impeached with a prior drug conviction if he chose to testify; and (2) the state could introduce rebuttal testimony showing that appellant had asked the victim and his roommate to store guns for him because, as a convicted felon, he was not allowed to possess guns. Because the trial court did not abuse its discretion, we affirm.
Minn. R. Evid. 609 allows a witness to be impeached with evidence of a prior conviction for a crime not involving dishonesty or false statement if (1) the crime was a felony, (2) the conviction is not over ten years old, and (3) the probative value of the evidence outweighs its prejudicial effect. Appellant’s 1994 drug conviction was a felony committed within the last ten years; thus, the only issue is whether the probative value of this evidence outweighs its prejudicial effect.
When making this determination, the following factors are considered: (1) the impeachment value; (2) the date of the conviction and the defendant’s subsequent history; (3) the similarity of the past crime to the present offense; (4) the importance of the defendant’s testimony; and (5) the centrality of the credibility issue. State v. Ihnot, 575 N.W.2d 581, 588 (Minn. 1998); State v. Gassler, 505 N.W.2d 62, 67 (Minn. 1993). These factors weigh in favor of admission of appellant’s 1994 controlled substance conviction:
(1) Although the impeachment value of the offense is arguably minimal because it is not necessarily probative of appellant’s veracity, appellant’s past criminal behavior allowed the jury to evaluate “the whole person” and to judge better the truth of appellant’s statements. Ihnot, 575 N.W.2d at 586.
(2) At the time of the assault in this case, appellant’s drug conviction was only four to five years old. His behavior since that conviction has been fairly respectable: he worked as the executive chef at a local supper club, supervising other employees, and had recently become an executive chef for a large corporation in Minneapolis.
(3) The prior conviction lacked any similarity to the current offense. See State v. Bettin, 295 N.W.2d 542, 546 (Minn. 1980) (when past crime similar to charged offense, likelihood increases that jury may use evidence substantively, rather than merely for impeachment purposes).
(4) Appellant’s testimony was crucial to his claim that he acted in self-defense. A court may exclude a prior conviction if its admission might “cause the defendant not to testify and if it is more important for the jury to hear [the] defendant’s version of the case.” Id. Appellant claimed that he was acting in self-defense when the victim began to choke him; because no other witnesses were present during the incident, this story could only be presented to the jury through appellant’s testimony. Thus, this factor arguably weighs against admission of appellant’s prior conviction.
But appellant was also allowed to tell the jury about the victim’s bad character, from writing bad checks to misconduct and theft at work. Given the content and intent of appellant’s testimony, it is unlikely that appellant hesitated about testifying, even after the court’s ruling that it would admit his 1994 conviction. Appellant’s one-sentence acknowledgement that he had been convicted in 1994 of a drug offense was a minor part of his testimony; he benefited greatly from being able to testify about the victim’s bad character and to establish his self-defense claim.
(5) The credibility issue becomes key when the issue narrows to a choice between the defendant’s credibility and that of another person. Id. Because it was important for the jury to hear evidence bearing on appellant’s credibility, particularly when appellant was allowed to attack the victim’s credibility, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in ruling appellant’s prior conviction was admissible for impeachment purposes.
Appellant complains that he was prejudiced by the rebuttal testimony of the victim’s roommate, who testified that appellant had asked him to hold and store the guns for him because, as a convicted felon, appellant “was not allowed to possess guns.” The trial court ruled this testimony admissible only after appellant took the stand and denied that the guns were his or that he was even looking for the guns when he went to the trailer home that day and got into an altercation with the victim.
Evidence related solely to a collateral matter is not admissible for impeachment purposes. State v. Ferguson, 581 N.W.2d 824, 834 (Minn. 1998) (citing Minn. R. Evid. 608(b) (specific instances of conduct to attack witness’s credibility cannot be proved by extrinsic evidence)). However, the roommate’s testimony was essentially offered to rebut appellant’s claim that the guns were not his, that he was not interested in the guns that day, and that he was not arguing with the victim about the guns’ whereabouts. To this extent, the roommate’s testimony may not have been offered on a collateral issue because it could be interpreted as tending to prove appellant’s motive in asking the roommate to hold the guns for him and in going to the trailer home that day to retrieve the guns and other personal items. See Minn. R. Evid. 404(b) (evidence of other crimes, acts, or wrongs admissible to prove motive). Thus, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in allowing the roommate to testify on rebuttal.
Finally, contrary to appellant’s assertions on appeal that the trial court allowed impeachment testimony against him, but not against the victim, the transcript reveals that appellant was allowed to testify extensively as to the victim’s bad character, which he claimed formed the basis for their argument that day. And contrary to appellant’s assertion that the victim “came off looking like a good citizen,” even the roommate acknowledged that the victim had been accused of misconduct at work. The accusations made by both sides demonstrate that neither side was given an unfair advantage. Rather, the jury was allowed to evaluate fully both appellant and the victim, and chose to accept the victim’s version of the events over appellant’s. See State v. Koskela, 536 N.W.2d 625, 630 (Minn. 1995) (witness credibility for jury to decide).