This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2002).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
State of Minnesota,
Donna Rae Dalrymple,
Filed September 23, 2003
Pine County District Court
File No. K0001539
Mike Hatch, Attorney General, Craig R. Anderson, Assistant Attorney General, 1100 NCL Tower, 445 Minnesota Street, St. Paul, MN 55101-2128; and
John Carlson, Pine County Attorney, 315 Main Street South, Pine City, MN 55063-1693 (for respondent)
Mark D. Nyvold, 46 East Fourth Street, 1030 Minnesota Building, St. Paul, MN 55102 (for appellant)
Considered and decided by Lansing, Presiding Judge, Kalitowski, Judge, and Schumacher, Judge.
U N P U B L I S H E D O P I N I O N
A jury found Donna Dalrymple guilty of first-degree assault for severe-shaking injuries sustained by her three-week-old son. Dalrymple challenges the sufficiency of the evidence to support the conviction and also challenges an evidentiary ruling excluding evidence of an alleged negotiation between the state and the child’s father. Because the circumstantial evidence of Dalrymple’s guilt is sufficient to support the conviction, and because the evidentiary ruling is within the court’s discretion, we affirm.
F A C T S
Donna Dalrymple and Lonnie End-of-Horn are the parents of an infant born on May 16, 2000. At the time of the infant’s birth, Dalrymple and End-of-Horn lived in rural Pine County with their three-year-old daughter and Dalrymple’s son, who was almost two.
Dalrymple and End-of-Horn’s infant had a normal birth, but on June 8, when he was three weeks old, he began showing signs of severe physical distress and was taken by ambulance to the Kanabec County Hospital. On the way to the hospital, the infant suffered seizures, which continued at the emergency room. A CT scan showed an abnormality in the right brain hemisphere and the hospital transferred the infant by helicopter to a neurosurgery facility at Minneapolis Children’s Hospital.
Two medical experts testified at trial. The first, Dr. Richard Patterson, a pediatric radiologist at Minneapolis Children’s Hospital, reviewed two CT scans taken of the infant’s brain. Patterson testified that the scans showed blood in the interhemispheric fissure in the subdural space, a conspicuous and important finding because the blood was in a distribution that was very suggestive of a shaking trauma. Patterson also found diffuse axonal injury in an MRI of the infant’s brain, a finding that doctors look for in children suspected of having been shaken. Patterson testified that in the absence of skull fracture and soft tissue injury, the only causes for this injury pattern are motor-vehicle accidents or shaken-baby syndrome. He also testified that x-rays showed a fracture of the infant’s left eighth posterior rib. This pattern of injury of the subdural hemorrhage along with a left-rib fracture strongly suggests a shaken baby.
The registered-nurse case manager, who met with Dalrymple and End-of-Horn at Children’s Hospital, reviewed the infant’s medical records and talked to them about the events preceding the hospitalization. Dalrymple told the case manager that the night before the infant became ill, he had awakened at 1:00 a.m., fussy and screaming. Dalrymple said she got up to tend the baby and settle him back into his crib. The infant woke again at 7:00 a.m., appeared tired and listless, and would not take a bottle. Later in the afternoon, Dalrymple noticed the infant was having some odd eye movements and foot twisting. Dalrymple told the nurse that the infant had not fallen or been in a car accident.
Lonnie End-of-Horn testified that on June 7, the day before the infant became ill, he cared for all of the children through most of the early morning and some of the afternoon. The infant slept in the afternoon and when he woke up did not twitch or have problems eating. He testified that Dalrymple put the infant to bed that evening, and that the infant seemed all right the last time he saw him. End-of-Horn went to bed about 11:00 or 12:00 and did not wake up until morning. He testified that he did not shake the infant at any time. End-of-Horn stated that he had caught his dog, a Rottweiler, sleeping on the infant a couple of times and that he had seen the couple’s daughter jumping on the bed on which the infant was lying. He also testified that he had put the infant in a small swing, and the other children were trying to do an “underdog” with the infant in the swing.
The second medical expert, Dr. Judson Reaney, who is a pediatrician and child-abuse consultant, testified that he determined that the infant had a pattern of injuries consistent with a traumatic shake-impact injury. The pattern included a broken rib, subdural hemorrhages, and retinal hemorrhaging. Reaney testified that the force described in the literature on shaken babies is a significant force that does not occur in normal child care or from babies being pushed in a swing. He further testified that a 60-80 pound dog could not, in his opinion, cause this pattern of injuries by lying on a child, nor would a three-year-old child be capable of inflicting these types of injuries on a baby. It was his opinion that the time frame of the injury would have been some time after the infant was seen eating normally, which was about 9:00 p.m. on June 7.
When questioned by an investigator for the Pine County Sheriff’s Department, about whether the infant showed symptoms on June 7, Dalrymple responded that he was fine. She also indicated that End-of-Horn had not arisen during the night to help with the infant and that she always got up and cared for the infant when he cried.
At trial, the state moved, under Minn. R. Evid. 408, to exclude evidence of an offer that the state allegedly made to End-of-Horn during a CHIPS proceeding on his other two children. According to End-of-Horn, the state said that if he implicated Dalrymple in the shaking incident, the state would not take his children from him. Relying on rule 408’s prohibition against admitting evidence of settlement discussions, the district court granted the motion, and also excluded evidence of an alleged offer to Dalrymple that if she would implicate End-of-Horn the matter could be resolved.
The jury found Dalrymple guilty of both charged offenses: first-degree assault in violation of Minn. Stat. § 609.221, subd. 1 (2000) and malicious punishment of a child in violation of Minn. Stat. § 609.377, subd. 6 (2000). The court denied Dalrymple’s motion for a judgment of acquittal or a new trial and sentenced her on the assault conviction. Dalrymple appeals, challenging (1) the sufficiency of the evidence to support the first-degree-assault conviction, and (2) the district court’s exclusion of the alleged offers of settlement.
In a challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence, this court’s role is limited to “ascertaining whether the jury could reasonably find the defendant guilty given the facts in evidence and the legitimate inferences which could be drawn from those facts.” State v. Miles, 585 N.W.2d 368, 372 (Minn. 1998). When reviewing a claim of insufficient evidence, we are required to view the evidence in the light most favorable to the verdict and assume the jury disbelieved any testimony conflicting with that verdict. State v. Chomnarith, 654 N.W.2d 660, 664 (Minn. 2003).
A conviction based on circumstantial evidence is accorded stricter scrutiny. State v. Bias, 419 N.W.2d 480, 484 (Minn. 1988). Circumstantial evidence is assigned the same weight as other evidence, so long as the circumstances proved are consistent with the guilt of the accused and inconsistent with any rational hypothesis except that of guilt. Id. But a conviction based on circumstantial evidence may stand only when the circumstances “form a complete chain which, in light of the evidence as a whole, leads so directly to the guilt of the accused as to exclude, beyond a reasonable doubt, any reasonable inference other than that of guilt.” Id. (quoting State v. Wahlberg, 296 N.W.2d 408, 411 (Minn. 1980)). Nonetheless, this standard recognizes that the jury remains in the best position to evaluate circumstantial evidence, and that it is the province of the jury to determine credibility and the weight given to testimony of individual witnesses. Id.
The medical testimony of both Drs. Patterson and Reaney established that the infant’s injuries were consistent with an intentionally inflicted shaking injury. End-of-Horn testified that his dog or his daughter could have caused the injuries, or that the infant could have been injured in a swing. But Reaney testified that none of these explanations was plausible, given the nature of the infant’s injuries.
Dalrymple maintains that the circumstantial evidence was insufficient to prove that she was responsible for the infant’s injuries because other people also took care of him on the day that he was injured. But two prosecution witnesses testified that Dalrymple told them that she was the only person who took care of the infant during the specific time frame in which Reaney posited that the injuries had to have occurred: during the night when the infant woke up, after he was seen eating normally on the evening of June 7. End-of-Horn testified that he did not wake up to take care of the infant during the night, and Dalrymple, in an investigative interview, confirmed that End-of-Horn had not been up during the night. Thus, the jury could have reasonably found that Dalrymple inflicted the injury, and that the chain of circumstantial evidence leads directly to Dalrymple’s guilt in a way that excludes, beyond a reasonable doubt, any reasonable inference of another cause for the injury.
Evidentiary rulings lie within the discretion of the district court, and will not be reversed absent a clear abuse of discretion. State v. Willis, 559 N.W.2d 693, 698 (Minn. 1997). A district court’s decision to exclude evidence constitutes error if it is an abuse of discretion. State v. Aubid, 591 N.W.2d 472, 477 (Minn. 1999). “[E]very criminal defendant has the right to be treated with fundamental fairness and afforded a meaningful opportunity to present a complete defense.” State v. Richards, 495 N.W.2d 187, 191 (Minn. 1992) (quoting California v. Trombetta, 467 U.S. 479, 485, 104 S. Ct. 2528, 2532 (1984)); accord U.S. Const. amend. XIV; Minn. Const. art. I, § 7. Even when a defendant alleges a violation of his constitutional rights, however, evidentiary challenges are reviewed under an abuse-of-discretion standard. State v. Profit, 591 N.W.2d 451, 463 (Minn. 1999).
Dalrymple asserts that her constitutional right to present a full defense was violated when the district court erroneously refused to admit evidence that (1) the state had made an offer of leniency to End-of-Horn during the CHIPS proceeding if he would implicate Dalrymple, and (2) the state had indicated to Dalrymple that if she would implicate End-of-Horn she would not be prosecuted. The district court, in responding to the objection of the state, based its exclusion of the proffered evidence on Minn. R. Evid. 408, which provides that offers to compromise are inadmissible to prove liability for a claim at issue. Minn. R. Evid. 408.
Relying on State v. O’Hagan, 474 N.W.2d 613 (Minn. App. 1991), review denied (Minn. Sept. 25, 1991), Dalrymple contends that Minn. R. Evid. 408 does not apply in a criminal proceeding. In O’Hagan,we held, in a criminal prosecution for theft by temporary control, that evidence of a draft of a financial statement prepared by the defendant in the context of an SEC investigation was not excludable under Minn. R. Evid. 408 because it was not offered to prove the validity of any SEC claims. Id. at 619-20. Thus, O’Hagan did not determine the applicability of rule 408 to a criminal proceeding, but only dealt with a more limited exception to the rule.
The Minnesota Supreme Court has endorsed the policy behind rule 408 in a criminal context, holding that statements made by a defendant during a presentence investigation, ordered as a condition of acceptance of a guilty plea, were inadmissible in a burglary trial following a plea withdrawal. State v. Jackson, 325 N.W.2d 819, 822 (Minn. 1982). The supreme court explained the policy reasons for excluding plea-related statements: “Just as evidence of offers to compromise a civil lawsuit are not admissible in evidence, see Minn R. Evid. 408, so, if negotiations for compromise of a criminal case are to be fruitful, evidence of plea-related statements must likewise be inadmissible in the event negotiations abort.” Id. Although the court did not explicitly apply rule 408 to criminal proceedings, it applied the rationale underlying the rule.
A related rule, Minn. R. Evid. 410, does specifically apply to criminal proceedings. Rule 410 prohibits the introduction of any statements relating to plea negotiations. Minn. R. Evid. 410. In applying rule 410, the Minnesota Supreme Court has held that “statements made in connection with an offer to plead guilty are not admissible for any purpose whether offered by the state or the defendant.” State v. Robledo-Kinney, 615 N.W.2d 25, 30 (Minn. 2000).
Dalrymple argues that rule 410 is inapplicable because the state made no formal offer to her, but rather only “asked [Dalrymple] if she would just be willing to explain that Mr. End-of-Horn did this that this could all be resolved.” The policy of preserving the confidentiality of plea negotiations would be impeded, however, by drawing a narrow distinction that allowed admissibility of offers that are tantamount to negotiations. See, e.g., Jackson, 325 N.W.2d at 821-22 (holding that presentence-investigation statements “made in connection with” a withdrawn plea are within the purview of rule 410); see also State v. Winston, 300 Minn. 314, 318, 219 N.W.2d 617, 620 (1974) (criticizing practice of calling probation officers to testify to statements made by defendant during bail conference).
We also believe that rule 410 applies to an offer made by the state to the same extent as to statements made by the defendant. The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, in United States v. Verdoorn, 528 F.2d 103, 107 (8th Cir. 1976), held that offers of leniency made by the state in return for the testimony of defendants are properly excluded as government plea proposals. The court based its decision on Fed. R. Crim. P. 11(e)(6), which prohibits the introduction of evidence of plea bargaining, and the policy behind Fed. R. Evid. 408, which is identical to Minn. R. Evid. 408. The court concluded that government proposals relating to pleas should be excluded under the rationale of Fed. R. Evid. 408:
Plea bargaining has been recognized as an essential component of the administration of justice. ‘Properly administered, it is to be encouraged.’ Santobello v. New York, 404 U.S. 257, 92 S. Ct. 495, 30 L.Ed. 427 (1971). If such a policy is to be fostered, it is essential that plea negotiations remain confidential to the parties if they are unsuccessful. Meaningful dialogue between the parties would, as a practical matter, be impossible if either party had to assume the risk that plea offers would be admissible in evidence.
Verdoorn, 528 F.2d at 107.
Following the reasoning in Verdoorn, we conclude that any alleged offer to Dalrymple was properly excluded as a statement relating to plea bargaining under Minn. R. Evid. 410. Although the district court did not rely on rule 410 in excluding the testimony, nonetheless “it is the responsibility of appellate courts to decide cases in accordance with law, and that responsibility is not to be diluted by counsel’s oversights, lack of research, failure to specify issues or to cite relevant authorities.” State v. Hannuksela, 452 N.W.2d 668, 673 n.7 (Minn. 1990) (quotation omitted). Thus, we may uphold the district court’s evidentiary rulings even though based on an alternative legal analysis. We decline to reverse the district court’s proper result simply because the court did not rely on the stronger reason. Carousel Autos., Inc. v. Gehrity, 511 N.W.2d 472, 476 n.2 (Minn. App. 1994), aff’d, 527 N.W.2d 813 (Minn. 1995). The district court did not abuse its discretion in excluding the evidence of the state’s offers.