This opinion will be unpublished and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,
Filed September 23, 2003
Clay County District Court
File No. K302872
John Stuart, State Public Defender, Marie Wolf, Assistant Public Defender, 2221 University Avenue Southeast, Suite 425, Minneapolis, MN 55414 (for appellant)
Mike Hatch, Attorney General, Thomas R. Ragatz, Assistant Attorney General, 525 Park Street, Suite 500, St. Paul, MN 55103; and
Lisa Borgen, Clay County Attorney, Clay County Courthouse, 817 North 11th Street, P.O. Box 280, Moorhead, MN 56561 (for respondent)
Considered and decided by Anderson, Presiding Judge; Harten, Judge; and Wright, Judge.
Appellant challenges his second-degree assault conviction, arguing that the district court abused its discretion in admitting Spriegl evidence of an assault on a different victim. Appellant argues that the court erred in concluding the evidence was not Spriegl evidence because it was not being offered to prove propensity, the state’s last-minute notice was inadequate, and that the evidence had little probative value given the relationship evidence of prior assaults against the victim of the charged offense. Additionally, appellant argues that the court abused its discretion in excluding defense evidence that the victim was overly controlling of one of her children who testified to witnessing the assault. We affirm.
Following a two-day court trial, appellant, Rodolfo Saldana, was convicted of assault in the second degree in violation of Minn. Stat. § 609.222, subd. 1 (2000); assault in the fifth degree in violation of Minn. Stat. § 609.224, subd. 4 (2000); terroristic threats in violation of Minn. Stat. § 609.713, subd. 1 (2000); and false imprisonment, in violation of Minn. Stat. § 609.255, subd. 2 (2000). Appellant was sentenced to 41 months in prison.
The complainant, N.C., and appellant had an intermittent relationship stretching back to 1989. According to N.C., on May 1, 2002, following a lengthy separation, appellant arrived at her apartment. N.C. testified that appellant showed up at her door with beer, told N.C. that he had been in a fight, and asked to stay the night. While appellant was staying with N.C., the two saw a news report about a man who had been beaten up and found in a roadside ditch. Appellant admitted to N.C. that he had been involved in the assault but claimed he had acted in self-defense. N.C. stated that she eventually asked appellant to leave. But appellant, fearing N.C. would tell the police about his role in the assault mentioned on the news, refused to leave, kept her in the apartment against her will, and began abusing her. The couple’s eleven-year old son testified to some of the incidents of abuse he witnessed.
According to N.C.’s testimony, appellant kept her as a virtual prisoner in the apartment for nearly a week. N.C. testified that appellant watched her vigilantly to make sure she did not escape. She testified that at one point she did get out of the apartment and appellant chased her, knocked her down, choked her until she lost control of her bladder, dragged her back to the apartment, and threatened to kill her. Trial testimony also revealed that appellant armed himself with a series of knives in order to prevent her escape and threatened to kill N.C.’s granddaughter. Appellant even used mattresses to barricade the apartment door.
On May 5, 2002, appellant accompanied N.C. to a laundromat where N.C. was allowed to place a call to her sister-in-law. But N.C. decided not to tell her sister-in-law what was happening for fear of what appellant might do to N.C. and her children. The family may have also gone to McDonald’s and made other outings during this period of incarceration.
The next day, N.C. told appellant she had to visit a caseworker and was allowed to leave the apartment. From there, N.C. went to a battered women’s’ shelter and called the police and her daughter in Texas to report the abuse. When the police made contact with N.C. they noticed red marks on her neck.
Appellant produced substantial evidence contradicting the state’s case. He testified that he was not a visitor in N.C.’s apartment but had been staying there since April when the entire family moved to Minnesota. Appellant did admit having a fight with N.C. after noticing a “hickey” on her neck. He warned N.C. that when they moved into his mother’s duplex N.C. was going to have to clean up her act and stop drinking, using drugs and philandering. But appellant denied imprisoning N.C. At one point during an argument N.C. left the apartment, and appellant, believing she was going through withdrawal, brought her back to the apartment. But appellant denied ever assaulting, threatening or imprisoning N.C.
Appellant testified friends of the children visited over every day during the alleged period of incarceration. The family made trips around town and appellant left N.C. in the car with the engine running on multiple occasions. Appellant called witnesses who testified that they had seen appellant out in public alone, during the alleged period of imprisonment. One witness testified that she spoke to N.C. alone in the hallway and N.C. gave no hint of any distress.
Finally, appellant produced character evidence concerning N.C.’s reputation for truthfulness. One witness described N.C. as a person who spent her life fighting and arguing. N.C. was also described as a dishonest person. Another witness said N.C. was not welcome in her home because trouble seemed to follow her.
The district court did not permit appellant to produce testimony concerning the control N.C. wielded over her children. Appellant sought to use this evidence to explain why his son’s testimony may have supported N.C.’s account. The district court concluded the evidence was inadmissible hearsay. The district court did, however, allow evidence concerning appellant’s involvement in a brutal assault days before the charged incident. The state elicited this information to explain why appellant was motivated to imprison N.C. This appeal followed appellant’s conviction.
Appellant challenges the district court’s decision to admit evidence of appellant’s involvement in a prior assault. Appellant claims this was Spriegl evidence and that the state did not provide proper notice. A reviewing court will not reverse the district 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). Generally in a criminal case, evidence showing that the accused has committed another crime unrelated to the crime for which he or she is on trial is inadmissible. State v. Spriegl, 272 Minn. 488, 490, 139 N.W.2d 167, 169 (1965). And evidence of other crimes or bad acts may not be used to prove the accused’s propensity to engage in criminal behavior. State v. Thieman, 439 N.W2.d 1, 6 (Minn. 1989).
There are exceptions to this rule. In particular
[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 crimes constitutes part of the res gestae, it is admissible. * * * Such evidence may be considered only for the purpose for which it is sought to be introduced, regardless of the fact that it may incidentally show commission of some other offense. Such evidence, however, must show a causal relation or connection between the two acts so that they may reasonably be said to be part of one transaction.
State v. Nunn, 561 N.W.2d 902, 907 (Minn. 1997) (quoting State v. Wofford, 262 Minn. 112, 118, 114 N.W.2d 267, 271-72 (1962)). This exception allows the state to prove its case by allowing the state to utilize evidence of a tangentially related crime to explain why the defendant may have been motivated to commit the crime. See Id.
This other-crimes evidence is a close relative of Spriegl evidence. Both are used pursuant to Minn. R. 404(b) to show “motive, opportunity, intent, preparation, plan, knowledge, identity, or absence of mistake or accident.” Minn. R. Evid. 404(b); State v. Kates, 616 N.W.2d 296, 299 (Minn. App. 2000), review denied (Minn. Oct. 26, 2000). But where Spriegl evidence concerns bad acts not related to the charged offense, other-crimes evidence may be used to the show that the accused committed the charged offense with evidence of other crimes committed that are “necessarily, but incidentally, part of the substantive proof of the offense” and are “offered to complete the picture” and provide context to the charged offense. State v. Roy, 408 N.W.2d 168, 171 (Minn. App. 1987), review denied (Minn. July 22, 1987). The latter evidence is separate and distinct from Spriegl evidence and “is admissible to show motive without regard to the Spriegl requirements.” State v. Salas, 306 N.W.2d 832, 836 (Minn.1981). Accordingly, appellant’s claim that the state violated the Spriegl notice requirement is misplaced.
For example, a witness’ testimony that she had been kidnapped and threatened by a defendant if she did not tell him what she knew about a theft of $20,000 and a pound of marijuana was admissible to explain why the defendant may have been motivated to shoot two people, murdering one. Nunn, 561 N.W.2d at 908. Similarly, a district court properly admitted evidence suggesting the defendant believed the victim was accusing him of committing other crimes in order to explain why he committed a murder. Salas, 306 N.W.2d at 837. Likewise, it was not an abuse of discretion for a jury to receive evidence that a decedent was aware the defendant had committed a string of robberies and had threatened to go to the police in order to show why the defendant wanted to kill the decedent. State v. Martin, 293 Minn. 127, 128-29, 197 N.W.2d 219, 226-27. And evidence a defendant stole and damaged property in an attempt to cover up the death of his brother was admissible to prove he committed the murder. Roy, 408 N.W.2d at 171-72.
Here, evidence was introduced to show appellant’s involvement in a brutal assault days before the charged incident. The state elicited this information to explain why appellant was motivated to imprison N.C. The state used this evidence to “complete the picture” of the crime and explain why appellant committed the charged offense.
The state’s theory at trial was that after appellant admitted he had assaulted another man and left him by the side of the road, he began to fear that N.C. would turn him over to the police. It was this fear, the state argued, that caused appellant to keep N.C. against her will for nearly a week. Therefore, the state contends, it was necessary to admit evidence of the assault in order for it to fully explain appellant’s motive and to provide the court with the necessary context to the facts of the case.
The other crime evidence at issue here was used to supply a motive for the charged offense. The state based its case on the premise that appellant committed the charged offenses in order to avoid being arrested for the previous assault. In both Martin and Roy evidence was deemed admissible to show a defendant was motivated to commit one crime in order to avoid being arrested for another offense. Martin, 293 Minn. at 128-29, 197 N.W.2d at 226-27. Roy, 408 N.W.2d at 172. Accordingly, we conclude that the district court properly allowed the state to present evidence of the other assault in order to explain his motive for falsely imprisoning N.C.
Appellant also argues that the district court abused its discretion by not allowing the admission of evidence concerning N.C.’s parenting style and the control she exerted over her children. Appellant sought to elicit testimony that N.C. had an extreme influence over her children, thus explaining why one of the couple’s sons would testify supporting N.C.’s version of the incident. The district court determined that this evidence was hearsay and irrelevant and ruled it inadmissible.
A criminal defendant has a constitutional right to present a complete and meaningful defense. State v. Richards, 495 N.W.2d 187, 191 (Minn. 1992). But this right is not without limits and precludes a defendant from introducing irrelevant or otherwise inadmissible evidence. State v. Crims, 540 N.W.2d 860, 866 (Minn. App. 1995), review denied (Minn. Jan 23, 1996). Appellate courts largely defer to the district court’s evidentiary rulings, which will not be overturned absent a clear abuse of discretion. State v. Kelly, 435 N.W.2d 807, 813 (Minn. 1989).
Appellant attempted to introduce testimony from his mother about her conversations with one of appellant’s children concerning N.C.’s control over the couple’s children. This is classic hearsay: an out-of-court statement used to prove the truth of the matter asserted. Minn. R. Evid. 801(c). The district court did not abuse its discretion in excluding the testimony.