This opinion will be unpublished and

may not be cited except as provided by

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






State of Minnesota,





Dustin Spencer Casey,




Filed May 9, 2006


Worke, Judge


Washington County District Court

File No. K8-04-4290


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


Doug Johnson, Washington County Attorney, Kari A. Lindstrom, Assistant County Attorney, 14949 62nd Street North, P.O. Box 6, Stillwater, MN 55082 (for respondent)


John M. Stuart, State Public Defender, Lydia Villalva Lijo, Assistant Public Defender, 2221 University Avenue SE, Suite 425, Minneapolis, MN 55414 (for appellant)


            Considered and decided by Worke, Presiding Judge; Wright, Judge; and Dietzen, Judge.

U N P U B L I S H E D   O P I N I O N

WORKE, Judge

On appeal from conviction of theft of a motor vehicle, possession of stolen checks, identity theft, possession of burglary or theft tools, and use of another’s name and date of birth, appellant argues that the district court abused its discretion in admitting police testimony that appellant appeared to be under the influence of a controlled substance when he was arrested because the evidence was irrelevant and prejudicial.  Because appellant has not shown prejudice, we affirm.


            “Evidentiary rulings rest within the sound discretion of the [district] court and will not be reversed absent a clear abuse of discretion.  On appeal, the appellant has the burden of establishing that the [district] court abused its discretion and that appellant was thereby prejudiced.”  State v. Amos, 658 N.W.2d 201, 203 (Minn. 2003) (citations omitted).  If the district court has erred in admitting evidence, the reviewing court determines “whether there is a reasonable possibility that the wrongfully admitted evidence significantly affected the verdict.”  State v. Post, 512 N.W.2d 99, 102 n.2 (Minn. 1994).  “[I]f there is a reasonable possibility that the verdict might have been more favorable to the defendant” without the evidence, then the error is prejudicial.  Id.

            Appellant Dustin Spencer Casey argues that officers’ testimony that appellant appeared to be under the influence of a controlled substance is irrelevant in determining whether he committed the charged offenses.  “‘Relevant evidence’ means evidence having any tendency to make the existence of any fact that is of consequence to the determination of the action more probable or less probable than it would be without the evidence.”  Minn. R. Evid. 401.  Whether evidence is relevant “turns on whether the evidence logically or reasonably tends to prove or disprove a material fact in issue, or tends to make such a fact more or less probable, or affords the basis for or supports a reasonable inference or presumption regarding the existence of a material fact.”  State v. Horning, 535 N.W.2d 296, 298 (Minn. 1995). 

            Here, Officer Vierling stopped a vehicle after a license-plate check indicated that the vehicle’s license plates did not match the vehicle.  Officer Vierling explained the reason for the stop and the driver, appellant, stated that he was purchasing the vehicle from his aunt.  Appellant provided a driver’s license bearing the name Mark William Emerson.  Officer Jackson, also at the scene, determined that the driver’s-license photo did not resemble appellant, and then learned that the vehicle had been reported stolen.

            During appellant’s trial the district court permitted the prosecutor, over appellant’s objection, to ask the officers if appellant’s demeanor during his arrest was similar to individuals under the influence of a controlled substance.  Officer Vierling testified that   appellant was “groggy” and had fallen asleep while handcuffed in the squad car.  The officer also testified that appellant was “out of it,” his eyes were bloodshot and watery, his pupils were dilated, and he was unable to answer questions.  Officer Vierling opined that appellant was “coming down from some type of controlled substance.”  Officer Jackson testified that appellant was cooperative until he was in the squad car and then he appeared to be tired and incoherent.  The officer testified that he believed that appellant “was coming down off of a controlled substance, or possibly under the influence of a controlled substance.”  

            The officers’ testimony was not relevant.  The testimony did not prove or disprove a material fact in issue, did not tend to make a material fact more or less probable, and did not provide a basis to support an inference or presumption regarding a material fact.  Respondent argues that appellant’s defense rested on appellant’s claim that he did not know that the vehicle was stolen and that the testimony was relevant for the jury to examine the believability of appellant’s claim.  But the officers’ testimony that they believed appellant was affected by a controlled substance did not support an inference that appellant was not being truthful about the vehicle.  This is especially true because the officers claimed that appellant was initially cooperative and did not appear tired and incoherent until he was in the squad car.  Appellant claimed that he was buying the vehicle before he was in the squad car; thus, appellant asserted his lack of knowledge about the vehicle being stolen before he exhibited the alleged signs of being under the influence of a controlled substance.     

            In order to require a new trial, appellant must demonstrate that “the error substantially influence[d] the jury to convict.”  State v. Loebach, 310 N.W.2d 58, 64 (Minn. 1981).  This court will not reverse a conviction based on the erroneous admission of objected-to evidence that is harmless beyond a reasonable doubt.  State v. Shannon, 583 N.W.2d 579, 585 (Minn. 1998).  An error is harmless when the “verdict actually rendered was surely unattributable to the error.”  State v. Jones, 556 N.W.2d 903, 910 (Minn. 1996).  “The error and its impact are to be examined within the context of the record as a whole, considering the strength of the state’s evidence and the weaknesses of any defense evidence.”  State v. VanWagner, 504 N.W.2d 746, 749 (Minn. 1993).  Generally, an error is less likely to be prejudicial when the evidence of guilt is strong.  State v. Dillon, 532 N.W.2d 558, 558 (Minn. 1995).

            Appellant concedes that it is difficult to assess the effect the testimony had on the jury.  Further, the evidence of appellant’s guilt was strong.  The vehicle had been reported stolen.  The vehicle’s owner testified that he loaned the vehicle to his son; his son testified that he left the vehicle in a garage and had not given anyone permission to use it.  The officers searched appellant and found a checkbook and carbon copies of checks belonging to Mark Emerson, a checkbook belonging to Michael J. Padden, and a driver’s-license/identification-card application containing the name Michael James Padden.  A search of the vehicle produced more than 100 CDs, a cell phone, a hygiene kit, screwdrivers, pliers, a wire cutter, a window punch—used to gain access into vehicles, a pocket knife, black gloves, a device used to cut keys, and Play Station controllers.  Michael Padden testified that someone broke into his home and took checks, personal-hygiene items, and a Play Station.  Padden testified that he knew appellant because appellant had roofed Padden’s home.  Padden also testified that the driver’s-license application bearing his name had the wrong middle name and that he did not fill out the application or give appellant permission to fill out the application.  Mark Emerson, appellant’s cousin, testified that someone broke into his home and took his wallet, a cell phone, his checkbook, a Play Station, and all of his CDs.  The evidence of appellant’s guilt was strong.  Although the district court abused its discretion in admitting the officers’ testimony, appellant has not shown prejudice.