This opinion will be unpublished and

may not be cited except as provided by

Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2000).

 

 

STATE OF MINNESOTA

IN COURT OF APPEALS

C4-01-1926

 

 

State of Minnesota,

Respondent,

 

vs.

 

John Davis Sims,

Appellant.

 

Filed July 23, 2002

Affirmed

Robert H. Schumacher, Judge

 

Hennepin County District Court

File No. 01021373

 

 

Mike Hatch, Attorney General, 525 Park Street, Suite 500, St. Paul, MN 55103; and

 

Amy Klobuchar, Hennepin County Attorney, J. Michael Richardson, Assistant County Attorney, C-2000 Government Center, 300 South Sixth Street, Minneapolis, MN 55487 (for respondent)

 

John M. Stuart, State Public Defender, Davi E. Axelson, Assistant Public Defender, 2829 University Avenue Southeast, Suite 600, Minneapolis, MN 55414 (for appellant)

 

 

            Considered and decided by Peterson, Presiding Judge, Schumacher, Judge, and Minge, Judge.


U N P U B L I S H E D   O P I N I O N

ROBERT H. SCHUMACHER, Judge

            John Davis Sims appeals from his conviction of attempted murder and assault claiming the district court erred in excluding proffered evidence of the victim's prior bad act indicating the victim's propensity to engage in self-destructive behavior.  We affirm.

FACTS

            On March 12, 2001, Sims and his girlfriend, Gwendolyn Neal, were at a bar in downtown Minneapolis.  They had been there a few hours playing darts and pool; Sims had three or four drinks, and Neal had two beers.  According to Neal, at some point a man playing pool with Sims put five dollars in the jukebox, picked a few songs, and told Neal she could make the other 17 selections.  Sims glared at Neal when this happened.  Sims testified that he was the one who had put the money in the jukebox and told Neal to make the selections. 

            Soon after Neal went into the women's restroom.  According to Neal, Sims then entered the restroom, pulled Neal from the stall and stabbed her several times in the face and neck while telling her he loved her.  When Neal collapsed, Sims began to wash his hands in the sink, and Neal ran from the restroom.  A bar patron witnessed Neal's exiting the restroom, bloody, and heard her scream, "somebody call the police.  I have been assaulted."  The bartender testified that Neal screamed, "he assaulted me in there."  The patron also heard Sims, who followed Neal out of the restroom, say: "Come here, baby.  I'm sorry.  Just talk to me."  The bartender called 911.  Sims tried to approach Neal but was restrained by a patron in the bar.  The patron eventually let Sims leave before the police arrived.

            Sims testified that while he was playing pool, Neal wandered off.  Sims found her sitting at a table by herself.  Sims told Neal they needed to leave, to retrieve some items they had left in a storage locker while they ran errands earlier in the day.  Neal did not respond, but instead took something from her purse and went into the restroom.  Sims testified that he put on his coat, and he went in the men's bathroom.  Sims and Neal walked out of the restrooms at the same time; as Sims extended his hand toward Neal, she cut him and then reentered the women's restroom.  Sims waited for a short period of time, and then went in to find out why Neal had cut him.  Sims found Neal in the stall, her face bleeding and holding a four-inch knife.  Sims tried to get the knife away from her, and his finger was cut in the struggle.  Sims told Neal he loved her and asked why she was doing this.  When Sims went to grab towels to clean up the blood, Neal left the restroom.  Sims followed Neal out, but became concerned when he heard her tell someone to call the police.  So he left the bar.  Later, he went to the hospital to check on her.

            While at the hospital, Sims went into the bathroom to tend to his bleeding hand.  A hospital protection officer asked him what happened to his hand; Sims replied that he had cut it on a soup can.  Sims asked the officer if he could see Neal.  He was arrested shortly thereafter.

            Neal received five wounds as a result of the incident.  She required three stitches for her forehead, four on her cheek, eleven for her chin, nine and ten for the two cuts to her neck.  The longer cut to Neal's neck was a quarter-inch from the carotid artery.  The doctor testified that Neal's wounds were not consistent with self-inflicted wounds.  The jury found Sims guilty on each of the three counts. 

D E C I S I O N

Appellate courts defer to the district court's exercise of discretion with respect to evidentiary rulings and will not overturn those decisions unless the district court clearly has abused that discretion.  State v. Kelly, 435 N.W.2d 807, 813 (Minn. 1989).  In a criminal trial, a defendant has the constitutional right to present a meaningful and complete defense.  State v. Richards, 495 N.W.2d 187, 191 (Minn. 1992).  This does not include, however, the right to present irrelevant evidence.  See Minn. R. Evid. 402 (evidence not relevant is not admissible).  A Spreigl-evidence analysis applies to proffered evidence of the alleged victim's prior bad acts.  State v. Robinson, 536 N.W.2d 1, 2 (Minn. 1995).  The admission of Spreigl evidence lies within the district court's discretion and will not be abused unless shown to be a clear abuse of discretion.  State v. Spaeth, 552 N.W.2d 187, 193 (Minn. 1996).  Similarly, the district court's ruling on impeachment of a witness with a prior conviction is reviewed under an abuse of discretion standard.  State v. Ihnot, 575 N.W.2d 581, 584 (Minn. 1998).

The defense argued that Sims should be allowed to introduce a Kansas police officer's testimony regarding Neal's 1993 arrest and conviction for assaulting a police officer.  The record indicates the officer was responding to an unrelated call when Neal approached his car, said something to the effect of "he has a gun," and tried to get into the front seat of the police car.  As the officer went to restrain her, Neal grabbed for his gun.  Then Neal started to walk out into traffic, but the officer restrained her.  Neal was arrested and pleaded guilty to a charge of simple assault on a police officer.  Sims argued that this evidence indicated Neal's potential self-destructive behavior and was therefore relevant toward proving the defense theory that Neal's injuries in the present incident had been self-inflicted.

The district court allowed both attorneys to present argument for inclusion and exclusion of this evidence, and took the matter under advisement in an overnight adjournment prior to beginning the trial.  The district court then decided to exclude the evidence, stating:

[E]ven if, as the defense argues, that Ms. Neal was intentionally doing some self-injurious behavior back in 1993, that being seven or so years prior, and me having no information by way of any offer of proof that there's been any intervening acts to show the continuous nature of that, that she's had any self-injurious kind of behavior, I don't have any information that she's seen psychologists, that she's had suicide attempts, that she's been in therapy, etcetera, I find it being too far removed in time.  And note that it was a misdemeanor offense and that in fact upon review of all the police reports, some of the witnesses say that Ms. Neal was stating that somebody had a gun. "He's got a gun, he's got a gun," and that she was trying to get away from whomever the person was that had a gun.

 

The district court further stated that the defense could impeach Neal with the evidence that she had denied the prior arrest in the course of the investigation of the present incident, but the defense was not allowed to inquire into the specifics of the offense.

            Sims argues on appeal that the district court erred in excluding the evidence because the court erroneously relied upon his lack of knowledge as to this prior bad act – a factor relevant with respect to a self-defense claim but not relevant with respect to the defense theory of self-inflicted injury.  Although the district court did allude to Sims's lack of knowledge when discussing the reasons for excluding the evidence, the district court also set forth the reasoning quoted above.  The quoted section above indicates the district court was concerned that the proffered evidence's relevance was questionable.  For one thing, it was not clear that this prior incident truly reflected any sort of self-destructive tendencies on the part of Neal – the incident was ambiguous on this issue and could be explained by factors other than a self-destructive tendency.  Also, given the 8-year lapse between that incident and the present one, the district court had concerns as to whether the prior incident retained relevancy without any additional, intervening incidents arguably corroborating the alleged self-destructive tendency.  The prior incident was rather ambiguous on the precise issue as to Neal's possible self-destructive nature; other explanations existed for her behavior at that time.  Finally, there was a possibility that this evidence would confuse or otherwise prejudice the jury against Neal.  See Minn. R. Evid. 403 (relevant evidence may be excluded if its probative value is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice or confusion of the issues).  

Applying Speigl analysis, as Robinson directs, the district court is to determine whether: (1) the evidence is clear and convincing that the witness participated in the prior bad act(s); (2) the evidence is material to the case; and (3) the probative value of the evidence outweighs its potential for unfair prejudice.  Spaeth, 552 N.W.2d at 193.  Here, although the district court did not specifically refer to this three-prong analysis, the section quoted above indicates that the district court was applying this analysis.  The district court concluded that the proffered evidence did not pass muster, specifically in that the probative value was limited. 

We conclude that it was not an abuse of discretion to exclude this evidence. The evidence was arguably relevant to Sims's defense, but not sufficiently relevant in the district court's estimation to overcome the possibility of unfair prejudice.  The district court did not err in excluding the evidence.  

Affirmed.