This opinion will be unpublished and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,
Kanabec County District Court
File No. K4-02-161
Mike Hatch, Attorney General, David Loeffler, Assistant Attorney General, 1200 NCL Tower, 445 Minnesota Street, St. Paul, MN 55101-2130 (for respondent)
John M. Stuart, State Public Defender, Leslie J. Rosenberg, Assistant Public Defender, 2111 University Avenue Southeast, Suite 425, Minneapolis, MN 55414 (for appellant)
Considered and decided by Kalitowski, Presiding Judge; Randall, Judge; and Wright, Judge.
U N P U B L I S H E D O P I N I O N
After the district court excluded evidence relating to the alleged victim and denied appellant’s motion for an adverse psychological examination of the victim, appellant Consuelo Traxler pleaded not guilty to financial exploitation of a vulnerable adult and theft by swindle and waived her right to a jury trial. Both parties submitted evidence and argument to the district court. The district court made findings of fact based on the stipulated record and found appellant guilty of the two offenses. Appellant challenges her convictions, contending that the district court erred in its evidentiary rulings. We affirm.
Appellant argues that she was denied her right to present a defense and denied due process of law because the district court excluded evidence related to the victim’s alleged sexual history and commission of prior bad acts. A district court has broad discretion in making evidentiary rulings, and a reviewing court will reverse only if the district court abused that discretion. State v. Amos, 658 N.W.2d 201, 203 (Minn. 2003). A defendant has a right to present a complete defense. State v. Bjork, 610 N.W.2d 632, 636 (Minn. 2000). Nonetheless, a criminal defendant is bound by the rules of evidence, which are designed to assure fairness and reliability in ascertaining guilt or innocence. State v. Henderson, 620 N.W.2d 688, 698 (Minn. 2001). Thus, even when a defendant alleges that his or her inability to present a defense violates constitutional rights, evidentiary questions are reviewed for abuse of discretion. Id.
Here, appellant sought to admit evidence that the victim had engaged in prostitution, maintained a sexual relationship with a convicted sex offender and three married men, stole a neighbor’s grill, wrote bad checks, and drove a vehicle without a license or insurance. Appellant contends that this evidence proves that she acted to protect the victim from herself, not to deprive the victim of her property. But the district court determined that this evidence was inadmissible. We agree. See Minn. R. Evid. 403 (providing that even relevant evidence may be excluded “if its probative value is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice, confusion of the issues, or misleading the jury . . . .”).
This evidence is of limited probative value. The state alleges that appellant and her codefendant husband swindled and defrauded the victim out of her property. And the undisputed evidence indicates that appellant and her husband repeatedly nagged and harassed the victim to transfer her property to them, and the victim transferred the property to them only after they assured her that they would build her a residence on the property, a promise which they never fulfilled. As noted by the district court, inappropriate sexual relationships, if any, engaged in by the victim, do not provide justification for appellant’s swindle and exploitation of the victim.
Further, the danger of unfair prejudice outweighs the limited probative value of this evidence. The district court noted that appellant wanted to introduce evidence of the victim’s prostitution to explain why appellant and her codefendant husband placed a padlock on the victim’s bedroom door (which they took over as their own bedroom soon after they moved in with the victim). But, as the district court found, the “relevance of a lock placed on the door is de minimus relative to the heart of the state’s complaint: fraud and exploitation in obtaining title to [the victim’s] property.” Further, as noted by the district court, prostitution “is one of the few buzzwords that is certain to invoke emotion and passion in a juror.” Ultimately, the district court properly determined that admission of any of this evidence would have inappropriately focused on the victim’s conduct rather than appellant’s conduct.
Appellant also contends that she needed to offer evidence of the victim’s alleged sexual history and commission of prior bad acts to explain why she and her codefendant husband were unable to keep their promise to build a residence for the victim on the property and why they sought a restraining order to keep the victim off the property immediately after she returned from out of state. But the chronology of events in this case does not comport with appellant’s version of the facts.
The record indicates that appellant and her husband began living with the victim in June 2000 immediately after the victim’s husband died. In March 2001, appellant, her codefendant husband, and the victim met with an attorney to legally transfer the property from the victim to appellant and her husband. Immediately prior to this meeting, the victim expressed doubt about transferring her property to appellant and her husband, but they assured her that they would build her a residence on the property and would take care of her. The victim transferred the property. Approximately one month later, appellant and her husband reported to county social services that the victim needed to be placed in a group home, but the county determined that placement in a group home was not necessary. Appellant and her husband then unsuccessfully attempted to admit the victim into a hospital behavioral unit. In early June 2001, appellant and her husband sent the victim to Illinois to stay with relatives and, according to the victim, told her not to return to Minnesota. When the victim returned at the end of June, appellant and her husband immediately applied for and were granted a restraining order to keep the victim off their newly acquired property.
Thus, the record indicates that appellant and her husband promised to provide and care for the victim in exchange for her property in March 2001, but reneged on this promise by April 2001. Appellant now claims that she and her husband were not able to keep their promise because of the victim’s bad behavior. But the record indicates that the victim committed most, if not all, of the alleged bad acts between June 2000, the time appellant and her husband began living with her, and March 2001, the time she legally transferred her property. Thus, the record indicates that appellant and her husband knew of the victim’s alleged bad acts prior to promising her that they would provide and care for her in exchange for the property. Therefore, the district court properly determined that appellant’s proffered reason for admitting this evidence was not credible, and the court properly excluded this evidence.
Appellant argues that the district court erred in denying her motion to order an adverse psychological assessment of the victim, contending that she needed to fully explore the victim’s capacity to manage her own affairs and she needed the opportunity to have the jury consider that appellant’s actions were a response to the victim’s problems, not a scheme to swindle her.
The district court has discretion to regulate discovery in a criminal case by restricting time, place, and manner. Minn. R. Crim. P. 9.03, subd. 3. This discretion extends to orders for adverse psychological examinations. State v. Cain, 427 N.W.2d 5, 8 (Minn. App. 1988). But this discretion should be used “judiciously and in a balanced way.” State v. Elvin, 481 N.W.2d 571, 574 (Minn. App. 1992), review denied (Minn. Apr. 29, 1992). A district court does not abuse its discretion in ordering an adverse psychological examination if a substantial need or compelling reasons exist. Cain, 427 N.W.2d at 8.
Here, an independent psychologist conducted a vulnerable-adult assessment on the victim in July 2001. The psychologist diagnosed the victim with mild mental retardation and concluded that the victim was a vulnerable adult and eligible for county services. The psychologist specifically found that the victim (1) had an IQ of 66; (2) did not have sufficient mental capacity to understand the nature of financial- and property-oriented transactions, their consequences, and their effect on her rights and interests; and (3) was not capable of managing her own affairs due to her level of intellectual functioning.
In denying appellant’s motion for an adverse psychological examination, the district court concluded that the defense had not established a substantial need or compelling reasons to grant a second vulnerable-adult assessment, citing Cain, 427 N.W.2d 5. We agree.
Further, as the district court noted, the initial vulnerable-adult assessment, conducted in July 2001, was independent because the psychologist conducting it did not work for the county or state and did not have any interest in the case. Although a separate psychologist retained by appellant opined that the independent psychologist’s diagnosis of mild retardation was “technically” premature, the record fully supports that diagnosis. Specifically, in 1976, a clinical psychologist had evaluated the victim to assess her suitability for placement in a sheltered workshop and determined that the victim had a primitive level of intellectual functioning, anxiety-related limitations, and difficulty in comprehending the world around her. And in 1979, as part of termination-of-parental-rights proceedings, the county conducted a psychological evaluation of the victim, and testing revealed that the victim had an IQ of 66, which placed her in the mildly retarded range. Therefore, on this record we conclude that the district court properly denied appellant’s motion to order an adverse psychological examination of the victim.