This opinion will be unpublished and

may not be cited except as provided by

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







State of Minnesota,





Prentice Wheatley,




Filed May 23, 2006

Klaphake, Judge


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)


John M. Stuart, State Public Defender, Rochelle R. Winn, Assistant State Public Defender, 2221 University Avenue Southeast, Suite 425, Minneapolis, MN  55414 (for respondent)


            Considered and decided by Hudson, Presiding Judge, Klaphake, Judge, and Peterson, Judge.

U N P U B L I S H E D   O P I N I O N


            Appellant 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.  See State v. Ferguson, 581 N.W.2d 824, 829 (Minn. 1998) (setting out factual summary in direct appeal following first trial).  In this appeal, appellant argues that he was prejudiced by the district court’s admission of evidence concerning (1) the participation of his extended family member in the Ferguson trial, and (2) 0his 2003 incarceration on a drug conviction.  Because the district court did not abuse its discretion in admitting this evidence and because any error in admitting the evidence was harmless, we affirm.


            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 (Minn. 2004).  “Absent a clear abuse of discretion, a district court's evidentiary ruling will not be reversed.”  Id.  Relevant evidence may be excluded “if its probative value is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice.”  Minn. R. Evid. 403.  Even if the evidence was erroneously admitted, the verdict may stand if the error was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt, meaning that the verdict was “surely unattributable to the error.”  State v. Morton, 701 N.W.2d 225, 233 (Minn. 2005) (quotation omitted).  In applying the harmless error standard, courts “consider the manner in which the evidence was presented, whether the evidence was highly persuasive, whether it was used in closing argument, and whether it was effectively countered by the defense.”  State v. Courtney, 696 N.W.2d 73, 80 (Minn. 2005).  “Evidence of the defendant's guilt is also a relevant consideration, but it is not the sole factor.”  Id.

            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. Schulz, 691 N.W.2d 474, 478 (Minn. 2005).  “A fact is relevant if, when taken alone or in connection [with] other facts, [it] warrants a jury in drawing a logical inference assisting, even though remotely, the determination of the issue in question.  The convincing power of that inference is for the jury to determine.”  Id.  (citations omitted).

            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 Ferguson re-trial.  The court did not admit the most prejudicial evidence offered by the state, including appellant’s gang membership and his failure to attend his cousin’s funeral, but it did admit evidence of the efforts by appellant’s family to persuade him to participate in both trials and his efforts to distance himself from those trials.  Because this evidence was probative of appellant’s intent to commit the charged offense, the district court did not abuse its discretion by allowing its admission. 

            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 Ferguson case and that appellant was incarcerated on a drug offense.  The court allowed this evidence because it ruled that the defense had “opened the door” to the issue by raising it.  Another witness, appellant’s probation officer, also testified that appellant was on probation for a narcotics conviction at the time of the current offense. 

            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[ed] the door” to otherwise prejudicial evidence of his incarceration.  See State v. Henderson, 620 N.W.2d 688, 702 (Minn. 2001) (stating that prosecution had “arguable” claim that defendant opened the door to otherwise improper character evidence when he attempted to present favorable but inaccurate picture of himself); State v. Goar, 295 N.W.2d 633, 634-35 (Minn. 1980) (noting that defendant may open the door to otherwise improper character evidence by presenting himself in misleading light).  Moreover, the record included evidence that other state witnesses had been convicted of crimes.  Under these circumstances, and considering other strong evidence of appellant’s guilt introduced at trial, any error in admitting this evidence was harmless.  See Courtney, 696 N.W.2d at 80 (stating that evidence of defendant’s guilt is relevant consideration in application of harmless error rule).  We therefore conclude that the district court did not abuse its discretion in admitting this evidence.