This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2002).
IN COURT OF APPEALS
State of Minnesota,
Justin Dean Olson,
Hennepin County District Court
File No: 00065387
Mike Hatch, Attorney General, 525 Park Street, Suite 500, Saint Paul, MN 55155-6102; and
Amy Klobuchar, Hennepin County Attorney, Linda K. Jenny, Assistant County Attorney, C-2000 Government Center, 300 South Sixth Street, Minneapolis, MN 55487 (for respondent)
John M. Stuart, State Public Defender, Michael F. Cromett, Assistant State Public Defender, 2221 University Avenue Southeast, Suite 425, Minneapolis, MN 55414 (for appellant)
Considered and decided by Randall, Presiding Judge, Schumacher, Judge, and Forsberg, Judge.*
U N P U B L I S H E D O P I N I O N
Appellant appeals from his conviction for felon in possession of a firearm, arguing that the trial court abused its discretion in admitting evidence of other bad acts, including evidence of stalking, violation of a restraining order, and possibletheft or burglary, allegedly relevant to “complete the story.” Appellant, who stipulated he wasineligible to possess a firearm, argues that the state had no reason to show why police were investigating the situation just to establish he was in constructive possession of the gun. We affirm.
On January 1, 1999, Markessa Carter obtained a restraining order against appellant Justin Olson, prohibiting him from having any contact with her. Markessa and Olson were high-school acquaintances. The restraining order ran from January 1, 1999, until January 4, 2001. Sometime prior to July 8, 2000, the night of arrest, Olson visited the church the Carter family attended, and asked the minister if he had seen Markessa. A church member who recognized Olson informed the minister of past incidents between Olson and Markessa. After hearing this, the minister followed Olson to the parking lot, wrote down his license plate number, and provided this information to the Carter family.
On July 8, 2000, around 11:00 p.m., Mrs. Carter noticed a van parked two houses away from her home. Mrs. Carter discovered the license-plate number of the van matched the number her minister told her belonged to Olsen. Mrs. Carter then called the police, reporting a “suspicious vehicle and a possible violation of a restraining order.”
When Officer Albright arrived at the Carter residence, he saw the van’s brake lights flash one time as if someone had hit the brakes. Next, Officer Albright approached the van, but he did not see anyone in the drivers seat. Officer Albright then walked around the van and noticed a photograph of an African-American woman, later identified as Markessa sitting on the dashboard. While Officer Albright was speaking with the Carters, Olson approached Officer Ankerfelt from behind a nearby house. Olsoninformed the officer he was having problems with his car and had gone to a nearby gasstation to use a pay phone, but when he saw the police, he returned to see what was happening. Officer Albright obtained the keys to the van, placed Olson in a squad car, and searched the van. Officer Albright discovered a 44-caliber handgun behind the driver’s seat and the large photograph of Markessa on the front dashboard. Additionally, Officer Albright found a purse with an ID tag attached that had Markessa’s name on it, which contained five loose rounds of ammunition. Finally, a gun, case, lock, box of ammunition, and a variety of additional pictures of Markessa were found in the van.
After searching the van, the two officers tested the car to see if they could find the problems Olson claimed he was experiencing. The officers could find nothing wrong with Olson’s car. The officers also determined that the lights flashed when the remote was used to lock the van’s doors. During an interview the next day, Olson informed the officers that before arriving at Yates Bay Street, near the Carter's home, he had first visited a friend, visited his brother, stopped by a copy shop, and then experienced car trouble. Additionally, Olson maintained that he leftthe van on Yates Bay Street, near a gas station where he made a call to his mother. However, Olson contends that when he saw flashing lights, he returned to the van where he discovered the two officers.
Olson stipulated that he was a person prohibited by statute from possessing and transporting a firearm or pistol. As a result, Olson was charged with Felon in Possession of a Firearm, in violation of Minn. Stat. § 609.165 (1)(b) (2000). After a Rasmussen hearing on October 17, 2000, the district court suppressed evidence of the gun. The state appealed this suppression order and on June 13, 2001, we reversed and remanded for trial.
At trial, the district court allowed the admission of high-school photographs of Markessa found in Olson's van, including a prom photo with her date’s head cut out and Olson’s picture substituted in its place. The district court also allowed the following evidence: (1) testimony concerning the existence of the restraining order and the possible violation of that restraining order; (2) a videotape of Olson’s interview with the police; and (3) a purse with Markessa's name on it that contained loose rounds of ammunition. The court ruled that this evidence provided context to the events surrounding the arrest, was relevant to the relationship, and established Olson’s knowledge of his possession of the gun. The court, thus, concluded it was admissible. The district court further concluded that the probative value of the evidence substantially outweighed any unfair prejudice to Olson.
There is one critical issue we face: whether the district court abused its discretion by admitting the evidence it found in Olson's van, the videotape of his police interview, and evidence of a restraining order and its possible violation. Evidentiary rulings are reviewed under an abuse of discretion standard. State v. Edwards, 485 N.W.2d 911, 914 (Minn. 1992). Therefore, absent erroneous interpretation of the law, the question of whether to admit or exclude evidence is within the district court’s discretion. Kroning v. State Farm Auto. Ins. Co., 567 N.W.2d 42, 45-46 (Minn. 1997).
Under the rules of evidence, only relevant evidence is admissible at trial. Minn. R. Evid. 402. Relevant evidence is defined as:
evidence having 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.
Minn. R. Evid. 401. Any evidence of other acts or wrongs that are used to prove a person’s character “to show action [in] conformity therewith” must also be excluded. Minn. R. Evid. 404(b). However, such evidence may be admissible to show “proof of motive, opportunity, intent, preparation, plan, knowledge, identity, or absence of mistake or accident.” Even relevant evidence may be excluded, however,
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.
Minn. R. Evid. 403. This rule creates a balancing test between possible unfair prejudice and the probative value of the evidence.
Olson argues that the district court allowed evidence that was irrelevant to prove whether he possessed a firearm. He maintains that the evidence pertaining to his violation of a restraining order, stalking and possible theft prejudiced him by depriving him of his right to a fair trial. Olson argues that the state’s evidence presenting Olson as a dangerous individual, even if it had some relevancy, had a prejudicial effect substantially outweighing its probative value. Thus, Olson contends that the evidence should have been excluded under rule 403. Olson also argues that the following evidence was unfairly prejudicial: (1) informing the jury that Olson’s van contained a purse with Markessa’s name on the identification tag and that Olson had stopped by the church her family attends prior to his arrest; (2) admitting photographs of Markessa that were found in Olson’s van; and (3) including Olson’s statements to the police at trial. Olson contends the combined effect of this evidence was to suggest that he was an obsessive stalker who burglarized Markessa’s home.
At trial, Olson claimed that he did not “knowingly” possess the gun. Two witnesses called by Olson testified that Olson’s mother had purchased the gun and that she left the gun in Olson’s van without Olson’s knowledge. Olson argues that due to the “bad character” evidence admitted against him, the jury could not have seriously considered his testimony that he didn't knowingly possess the gun.
The Minnesota Supreme Court has held that evidence is properly admitted if it explains how an investigation began and is used “only to the extent necessary.” State v. Griller, 583 N.W.2d 736, 743 (1998). Here, the district court admitted evidence “only to the extent necessary” by redacting portions of Olson’s taped interview with the investigator that implicated Olson in prior criminal conduct. Specifically, the court redacted Olson’s statements implicating him in burglaries of the Carter home, and also the fact that he was on probation for these charges.
The general rule in criminal cases is that evidence “that the accused has committed another crime independent of that for which he is on trial is inadmissible.” State v. Sweeney, 180 Minn. 450, 455, 231 N.W. 225, 227 (1930). The rule is not absolute.
[W]here two or more offenses are linked together in point of time or circumstances so that one cannot be fully shown without proving the other, or where evidence of other of other crime constitutes part of the res gestae, it is admissible.
State v. Wofford, 262 Minn. 112, 118, 114 N.W.2d 267, 271 (1962); See also State v. Nunn, 561 N.W.2d 902, 907 (Minn. 1997) (stating “the general rule against admitting other crime evidence should not necessarily preclude the state from “making out its whole case” against the accused based on evidence that may be relevant to the accused's guilt of the crime charged”). Although Olson argues that the videotaped statements were prejudicial because references were made to the restraining order, the Minnesota Supreme Court has admitted taped statements where defendants implicate themselves in other crimes. See State v. Czech, 343 N.W. 2d. 854, 856-57 (Minn. 1984) (taped conversations before and after robbery properly admitted to show context). This ruling recognizes that the jury should be provided with the proper context in which the defendant made his admission or confession. Id; See also State v. Olkon, 299 N.W.2d 89, 101 (Minn. 1980) (allowing evidence showing how undercover officers were associated with defendant).
The statements pertaining to the existence of the restraining order, the photographs of Markessa, and the purse of ammunition were all offered by the state, and admitted by the district court, to establish the context in which the gun was discovered. Despite Olson's contention that the evidence was “irrelevant to the disputed element and unnecessary to “complete the story” regarding possession of the gun, this issue of gun ownership is not black and white. Even if the evidence depicted Olson as potentially dangerous, the evidence provided a plausible context to explain why both the officers and the Carter family suspected Olson posed a danger and investigated him in the first place. In addition, the circumstances in which it was found suggest the possibility that Olson intended use the gun to harm Markessa or her family. Understanding its responsibility under rule 403 to reduce undue prejudice, the district court redacted certain portions of Olson’s statements that related to the prior crimes.
The evidence admitted was relevant to show the surrounding circumstances of the arrest, and the relationship between the parties. These circumstances considered in the context of Olson’s relationship to Markessa and her family indicate that Olson may have planned to use the weapon, and planning to “use” a gun is relevant to the issue of “ownership.”
The district court properly balanced the probative value of the evidence against its potential prejudice. Given that we review evidentiary rulings for an abuse of discretion, the district court did not err in its rulings.
* Retired judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals, serving by appointment pursuant to Minn. Const. art VI, § 10.