This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2004).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Filed May 23, 2006
Hennepin County District Court
File No. 04065564
Mike Hatch, Attorney General, 1800 Bremer Tower, 445 Minnesota Street, St. Paul, MN 55101-2134; and
Amy Klobuchar, Hennepin County Attorney, Linda M. Freyer, Assistant County Attorney, C-2000 Government Center, Minneapolis, MN 55487 (for respondent)
Considered and decided by Hudson, Presiding Judge, Klaphake, Judge, and Peterson, Judge.
Prentice Wheatley was convicted of felony criminal contempt of court under
Minn. Stat. § 588.20, subd. 1 (2004), after he failed to appear on a subpoena
to testify in the 2004 re-trial of a case in which he was a witness to the 1994
murder of one of his cousins.
An appellate court reviews a
district court’s decision to admit evidence for abuse of discretion. State
v. Bolstad, 686 N.W.2d 531, 541 (
Evidence of Appellant’s Family Ties
Appellant contends that the district court abused its discretion by allowing evidence that involved (1) his familial relationships; (2) attempts by his relatives to convince him to cooperate with the prosecution; and (3) agreements by five other extended family members to testify in the first Ferguson trial. Appellant insists that this evidence was of negligible probative value and highly prejudicial. He argues that this evidence improperly persuaded the jury on the issue of intent, which was the pivotal issue at trial.
Probative evidence must “in some
degree, advance the inquiry.” State v.
Evidence of appellant’s familial
relationships was relevant and probative of his intent to obstruct the criminal
justice process by failing to respond to the subpoena to appear for the
Admission of this evidence is also subject to the harmless error rule. The record included evidence that appellant gave false information regarding his whereabouts to police, provided no information about how he could be reached, had car problems on the day he was supposed to appear but had no car problems on either the day before or after trial, failed to appear even though his probation officer informed him that he must attend trial and that all other family witnesses attended trial, ignored the subpoenas ordering him to appear, and took actions to evade police. This additional evidence provided strong support for the jury to find that appellant intended to and did disobey the subpoena ordering him to appear for trial.
Evidence of Appellant’s Incarceration
Appellant claims that the district
court abused its discretion by admitting evidence of his 2003 incarceration on
a drug conviction. This evidence was
referred to by two trial witnesses who testified for the state. Appellant’s probation officer testified that
appellant was on probation for a drug offense, and a police sergeant testified
that when he spoke to appellant in October 2003 in Duluth and asked him to
testify at the Ferguson re-trial,
appellant responded that he needed to talk to his family before deciding
whether to testify. During
cross-examination, the defense asked the sergeant several questions about whether
appellant was in the St. Louis County jail at the time of the October interview
and therefore unable to consult with his family. On redirect, the state established that the
offense for which appellant was incarcerated was not related to the
Appellant argues that evidence of
his drug conviction was highly prejudicial and should not have been admitted at
trial through the testimony of these two witnesses. Much of this evidence, however, was
introduced by appellant, and the defense did not object to the testimony of appellant’s
probation officer. Further, as the
district court determined, defense counsel’s questioning of the police sergeant
to show that appellant could not have contacted his family from jail “open[