This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2004).
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Christopher Walter Paurus,
Filed August 9, 2005
Clay County District Court
File No. K5-03-2049
Mike Hatch, Attorney General, Kelly O’Neill Moller, Assistant Attorney General, Suite 1800, 445 Minnesota Street, St. Paul, MN 55101; and
Lisa Borgen, Clay County
John Stuart, State Public
Defender, Bridget Kearns Sabo, Assistant Public Defender,
Considered and decided by Halbrooks, Presiding Judge; Lansing, Judge; and Minge, Judge.
U N P U B L I S H E D O P I N I O N
In this appeal from conviction and sentence for felony domestic assault and fourth-degree criminal damage to property, Christopher Paurus challenges a district court evidentiary ruling, jury instructions, and the sufficiency of evidence to establish that he committed a domestic assault. He also contends that the dispositional departure in sentencing violates his Sixth Amendment rights. Because the disputed evidence is within an exception to the hearsay rule, the jury instructions properly defined the statutory terms, and the evidence satisfies the elements of the domestic-assault offense, we affirm the conviction. We also affirm the dispositional sentencing departure.
F A C T S
Christopher Paurus and Yolanda Hanson were involved in a romantic relationship beginning in 2001. During the relationship, Paurus kept personal belongings at the house Hanson shared with her two children and also spent nights at Hanson’s house. By the spring of 2002 the relationship had become strained, and between March 2002 and mid-August 2003, four physical altercations resulted in police calls. The first altercation involved Paurus slapping Hanson; the second, according to Hanson, involved Paurus striking Hanson on the arm, face, and legs with a closed fist approximately ten times, resulting in bruises, broken glasses, a black eye, a bloody nose, and knife slashes on Hanson’s leather jacket; and the third involved Paurus pulling Hanson off a desk and pushing her while her daughter was present.
The fourth altercation, the subject of this appeal, occurred on August 14, 2003. In response to a report about slashed tires, police were dispatched to Hanson’s house. On arrival police observed that Hanson was excited, upset, and looked as though she had been crying. Police also observed that Hanson had bruises on her arm. Hanson said Paurus had caused the bruises by grabbing her. The police took Hanson’s statement within one hour of the time of the dispatch. In testimony at trial, the officer who took Hanson’s statement said she did not answer questions with direct answers and interjected topics that were not responsive to the questions.
reported that the altercation began when she refused to drive with Paurus to
his mother’s home in
The state charged Paurus with felony domestic assault and fourth-degree criminal damage to property. At trial, in response to the state’s subpoena, Hanson testified but provided a conflicting account of the events. She testified that she had lied in her statement to get Paurus in trouble, that Paurus had not assaulted her, that he did not have a knife, that the tire damage was caused by a nail, and that the marks on her arms were caused by a screen door, not by Paurus. Over defense objection, the court permitted the state to admit into evidence Hanson’s statement to the police.
Hanson also provided conflicting testimony on the nature of her relationship with Paurus. On direct-examination, she stated that she considered her relationship with Paurus to be a significant, boyfriend-girlfriend relationship and that she and Paurus had broken up “two, three months ago.” On cross-examination, she stated that she was not in a romantic or sexual relationship with Paurus on August 14, 2003. Then, on redirect, she said that, up to and at the time of the incident, she had “never not thought” of Paurus as her boyfriend.
Following the evidentiary portion of the trial, the judge instructed the jury on the elements of felony domestic assault, including the statutory definition of “household or family member[s]” and the criteria for determining whether persons are or have been involved in a “significant romantic or sexual relationship.” Paurus objected to both instructions.
The jury returned a verdict of guilty on both counts. The district court sentenced Paurus to eighteen months in prison for the felony domestic assault, a dispositional departure from the presumptive stayed sentence under the guidelines. On the criminal-damage-to-property conviction, the district court imposed a concurrent ninety-day sentence. In this appeal from conviction and sentence, Paurus challenges (1) the sufficiency of the evidence to establish that he and Hanson were household or family members for purposes of the domestic-abuse statute, (2) the jury instructions, (3) the admissibility of Hanson’s statement to police, and (4) the constitutional validity of the dispositional sentencing departure.
D E C I S I O N
be guilty of domestic assault under
a challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence, our 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 (
Paurus contends that the evidence is insufficient to support the jury’s finding that he and Hanson were household or family members. We disagree. Viewing the evidence in a light most favorable to the conviction, the jury could reasonably conclude that Paurus and Hanson were involved in a significant romantic or sexual relationship, which establishes household or family membership. At trial, on February 4, 2004, Hanson testified that she and Paurus had broken up two or three months earlier. From this testimony the jury could reasonably infer that the significant romantic or sexual relationship ended in November or December 2003, which was several months after the August 2003 assault. Hanson testified to events in their ongoing relationship and affirmatively responded that she considered Paurus to be her boyfriend. The jury could have also attached significance to the fact that, at the time of the August 14 assault, Paurus still kept clothing at Hanson’s home.
Although Hanson also denied that she was involved in a relationship with Paurus, the jury could have attributed this contradictory statement to Hanson’s reluctance to testify against Paurus and her apparent attempts to reduce Paurus’s culpability following the events. Consequently, Hanson’s affirmative and specific statements describing the relationship are sufficient for the jury to determine that she and Paurus were involved in a significant romantic or sexual relationship at the time of the August 14 assault.
courts are allowed “considerable latitude” in the selection of language for the
jury instructions. State v. Baird,
654 N.W.2d 105, 113 (
The district court instructed the jury on the statutory factors for determining whether persons are involved in a romantic or sexual relationship. This definition embodies rather than misstates the law. The domestic-assault statute, Minn. Stat. § 609.2242, subd. 1, expressly incorporates the definition of “family or household member[s]” provided in Minn. Stat. § 518B.01, subd. 2, which includes parties in a “significant romantic or sexual relationship.” Section 518B.01, subdivision 2(b) provides a detailed definition of this phrase and instructs the court to consider these factors in determining the nature of the relationship. These considerations are equally appropriate when the jury functions as fact-finder. We ascribe no error to the district court’s inclusion of an instruction that was not specifically requested by either the prosecution or the defense. The district court is responsible for instructing the jury on the applicable law. The considerations for determining the existence of a significant romantic or sexual relationship were directly applicable to Paurus’s felony domestic-abuse charge, accurately stated the law, and did not constitute error.
Paurus next challenges the district court’s
admission of Hanson’s statement to police as an excited utterance. Evidentiary rulings are in the discretion of
the district court, and we will not reverse these rulings absent a clear abuse
of discretion. State v. Willis, 559 N.W.2d 693, 698 (
A statement is inadmissible as hearsay when
it is an out-of-court statement offered for the truth of the matter
The district court acted within its discretion in determining that the alleged aggressive actions and the tire slashing were startling events and that Hanson’s statement to the police directly related to these events. The final prong, whether Hanson was still sufficiently excited by the event to ensure the statement’s trustworthiness, was established through the testimony of the police.
The officer testified that Hanson appeared to have been crying and that she was upset. The officer also testified that she did not give direct answers and interjected comments unrelated to the officer’s inquiries. This behavior, within an hour of the incident, suggests that she was still affected by Paurus’s alleged assaultive conduct of shouting at her, pulling her to the ground, grabbing her with sufficient force to inflict bruises, and slashing her car tires. The district court was well within its discretion in admitting Hanson’s statement into evidence at trial.
A sentence that exceeds the
statutory maximum violates a defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial
if it is based on judicially determined aggravating factors other than the fact
of a prior conviction. Blakely
In State v. Hanf, this court determined that Blakely does not require that a jury make factual determinations if
the departure from the presumptive guidelines sentence is dispositional rather
than durational. 687 N.W.2d 659, 665-66
(Minn. App. 2004), review granted (
Because, under Hanf, Blakely is
inapplicable to dispositional departures in