This opinion will be unpublished and

may not be cited except as provided by

Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2004).






State of Minnesota,





Seneca Warrior Steeprock,



Filed June 7, 2005


Kalitowski, Judge


Hennepin County District Court

File No. 03076463


Mike Hatch, Attorney General, 1800 NCL Tower, 445 Minnesota Street, St. Paul, MN 55101-2134; and


Amy Klobuchar, Hennepin County Attorney, Michael Richardson, Assistant County Attorney, C-2000 Government Center, Minneapolis, MN 55487 (for respondent)


John M. Stuart, State Public Defender, Ann McCaughan, Assistant Public Defender, 2221 University Avenue Southeast, Suite 425, Minneapolis, MN 55414 (for appellant)


            Considered and decided by Randall, Presiding Judge; Toussaint, Chief Judge; and Kalitowski, Judge.

U N P U B L I S H E D   O P I N I O N


            Appellant Seneca Steeprock challenges his conviction of second-degree assault claiming that evidence of a prior conviction was improperly admitted to the jury because it was more prejudicial than probative.  We affirm.


            A district court’s ruling on the impeachment of a witness by prior conviction is reviewed under a clear abuse of discretion standard.  State v. Ihnot, 575 N.W.2d 581, 584 (Minn. 1998).  Whether the probative value of a prior conviction outweighs its prejudicial effect is a matter within the discretion of the district court.  State v. Graham, 371 N.W.2d 204, 208 (Minn. 1985).  The district court’s decision will not be reversed absent a clear abuse of discretion.  Id. at 209.  The appellant has the burden of establishing both the abuse of discretion and prejudice from the erroneous ruling.  State v. Amos, 658 N.W.2d 201, 203 (Minn. 2003). 

            Minnesota evidentiary rules govern the admission of prior convictions for impeachment purposes.  See Minn. R. Evid. 609.  Rule 609 provides that evidence of a prior conviction may only be admitted if (1) the conviction was punishable by death or imprisonment in excess of one year and the court determines that the probative value outweighs its prejudicial effect, or (2) the conviction involved dishonesty or false statement.  Minn. R. Evid. 609. 

            Because appellant’s felony assault conviction did not involve dishonesty or false statement, the probative value of admitting the conviction must be weighed against its prejudicial effect.  “[District] courts have great discretion in determining what prior convictions are admissible under the balancing test of Rule 609(a)(1).”  State v. Gassler, 505 N.W.2d 62, 67 (Minn. 1993).  The district court uses the following factors to carry out this balancing test: 

(1) the impeachment value of the prior crime, (2) the date of the conviction and the defendant’s subsequent history, (3) the similarity of the past crime with the charged crime (the greater the similarity, the greater the reason for not permitting use of the prior crime to impeach), (4) the importance of defendant’s testimony, and (5) the centrality of the credibility issue.


Ihnot, 575 N.W.2d at 586 (quoting State v. Jones, 271 N.W.2d 534, 538 (Minn. 1978)). 

If a defendant’s credibility is central to the determination of the case, “a greater case can be made for admitting the impeachment evidence, because the need for the evidence is greater.” 587 (quoting State v. Bettin, 295 N.W.2d 542, 546 (Minn. 1980)).  The district court should also consider whether the admission of the evidence would cause the defendant not to testify.  Bettin, 295 N.W.2d at 546.  Depending on the particular facts of the case, the district court may assign different weights to different factors.  State v. Hochstein, 623 N.W.2d 617, 625 (Minn. App. 2001).  Because the district court is in a unique position to make this determination, it must be accorded broad discretion.  Id.

Here, the district court did not make an analysis of all of the Jones factors explicitly on the record but made a generalized statement that the court would admit the conviction to allow the jury to see the defendant’s “whole person.”  Failure to analyze the Jones factors on the record is not reversible error where the application of the factors would have still resulted in allowing the evidence into the record.  State v. Vanhouse, 634 N.W.2d 715, 719 (Minn. App. 2001), review denied (Minn. Dec. 11, 2001).

In light of the broad discretion afforded the district court, we conclude that appellant’s conviction could have been admitted applying the Jones factors.  First, because appellant claimed innocence and that the witnesses had misidentified him as one of his brothers who may have participated in the fight, the first factor is met in that the impeachment value of appellant’s prior conviction was greater than its prejudicial effect.  See Gassler, 505 N.W.2d at 67 (stating that “impeachment by prior crime aids the jury by allowing it to see the whole person and thus to judge better the truth of his testimony”) (quotation omitted).  Second, because the prior conviction occurred approximately four and a half years before appellant’s trial, it was well within the ten-year period in rule 609(b) and thus it could be properly admitted.  Third, although the prior conviction was also an assault, where other Jones factors are satisfied, courts “have been liberal in admitting prior convictions for impeachment even when the prior crime is the same as the crime charged.”  State v. Stanifer, 382 N.W.2d 213, 218 (Minn. App. 1986).  Fourth, appellant was not discouraged from testifying by the court’s ruling; he testified at trial knowing that he could be impeached with the conviction.  And fifth, while both the state and appellant had several witnesses so appellant’s credibility was not the only issue before the jury, his claims of innocence and misidentification required the jury to decide whether to believe him or not.  

Finally, even if the district court erred in admitting the evidence, we conclude that any error is harmless.  The record indicates that appellant’s counsel brought up the conviction preemptively.  And the prosecution never mentioned the prior conviction during cross-examination and only briefly mentioned the prior conviction during closing arguments as a factor the jury could consider to determine if appellant was believable.  In addition, the district court properly issued a limiting instruction after appellant’s testimony and during the jury instructions.  Finally, as indicated by the verdict, the jury chose to believe the prosecution witnesses’ testimonies.  We conclude that any error in admitting evidence of appellant’s prior conviction was harmless in light of both the substantial evidence against him and the manner in which the trial was conducted.