This opinion will be unpublished and

may not be cited except as provided by

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







State of Minnesota,





Terry L. Olson,




Filed November 14, 2006

Klaphake, Judge


Chippewa County District Court

File No. K7-04-571



Mike Hatch, Attorney General, Thomas R. Ragatz, Assistant Attorney General, 1800 Bremer Tower, 445 Minnesota Street, St. Paul, MN  55101-2134; and


Dwayne N. Knutsen, Chippewa County Attorney, 102 Parkway Drive, P.O. Box 591, Montevideo, MN 56265 (for respondent)


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



            Considered and decided by Lansing, Presiding Judge, Klaphake, Judge, and Halbrooks, Judge.

U N P U B L I S H E D   O P I N I O N


            Appellant Terry L. Olson challenges his conviction for fifth-degree controlled substance offense.  Minn. Stat. § 152.025, subd. 2(1) (2004).  He argues that the district court abused its discretion by admitting Spreigl testimony and that the evidence was insufficient to sustain his conviction.

            Because admission of the Spreigl testimony, although erroneous, was harmless error, and because the evidence was sufficient to show that appellant constructively possessed methamphetamine, we affirm.


            Spreigl Evidence

            Evidence of other crimes or bad acts is not admissible to prove the defendant’s character or that the defendant acted in conformity therewith, but is admissible for the limited purpose of showing “motive, opportunity, intent, preparation, plan, knowledge, identity, or absence of mistake or accident.”  Minn. R. Evid. 404(b); State v. Lynch, 590 N.W.2d 75, 80 (Minn. 1999); see State v. Spreigl, 272 Minn. 488, 139 N.W.2d 167 (1965).  This court reviews the district court’s admission of such evidence for an abuse of discretion.  Lynch, 590 N.W.2d at 80.  The reviewing court must determine whether the Spreigl evidence was used for an improper purpose, “such as suggesting that the defendant has a propensity to commit the crime or that the defendant is a proper candidate for punishment for his or her past acts.”  State v. Ness, 707 N.W.2d 676, 685 (Minn. 2006).  On appeal, the defendant bears the burden of showing that the court abused its discretion and that the defendant was prejudiced by admission of the evidence.  Lynch, 590 N.W.2d at 80.

            The law has established a procedural framework to protect the defendant from misuse of this evidence.  The state is required to (1) give notice of the evidence it intends to offer; (2) clearly indicate the purpose for which the evidence is offered; and (3) present clear and convincing evidence that the defendant participated in the Spreigl offense.  State v. Kennedy, 585 N.W.2d 385, 389 (Minn. 1998).  Furthermore, the Spreigl evidence must be relevant and material to the state’s case and the probative value of the evidence must outweigh its potential for unfair prejudice.  Id.  Bearing these requirements in mind, if there is a doubt about admissibility, the defendant should be given the benefit of the doubt.  Id. 

            The district court is instructed “not simply [to] take the prosecution’s stated purposes for the admission of other-acts evidence at face value . . . [but to] identify the precise disputed fact to which the Spreigl evidence would be relevant.”  Ness, 707 N.W.2d at 686 (quotation omitted).  If the state’s case is strong on the issue for which the evidence is presented, but weak in other ways, the prejudicial impact of the testimony outweighs its probative value.  Id. at 690. 

            Here, the precise disputed fact was whether appellant had constructive possession of methamphetamine.  The state’s case on this issue was fairly strong, as shown by the following facts.  The methamphetamine was discovered on a table in living quarters where appellant admitted that he was staying.  One witness testified that appellant was the sole occupant of the living quarters during the month preceding the search.  The methamphetamine was found in a Marlboro cigarette package next to another Marlboro package containing cigarettes.  Two witnesses testified that appellant smoked Marlboro cigarettes; one testified that appellant was the only person on the premises who smoked that brand.  The two cigarette packages were found next to a cell phone belonging to appellant’s mother.   Given the strength of the state’s case on the issue of constructive possession, we believe that the district court abused its discretion in admitting the Spreigl testimony, which consisted of testimony by appellant’s co-defendant that she had seen appellant smoking methamphetamine in that location two days earlier.  While marginally probative, this evidence was unfairly prejudicial because it portrayed appellant as a drug user. 

            Nevertheless, even if admission of the testimony was erroneous, a new trial need not be granted unless there was a “reasonable possibility that the wrongfully admitted evidence significantly affected the verdict.”  State v. Asfeld, 662 N.W.2d 534, 544 (Minn. 2003) (quotation omitted).  In light of the strong evidence of constructive possession, we conclude that the Spreigl testimony did not significantly affect the verdict and was therefore harmless error.

            Sufficiency of the Evidence

            The reviewing court views a sufficiency of the evidence claim in the light most favorable to the verdict.  State v. Ostrem, 535 N.W.2d 916, 923 (Minn. 1995). 

[A] conviction based on circumstantial evidence will be upheld and such evidence is entitled to as much weight as any other kind of evidence, so long as a detailed review of the record indicates that the reasonable inferences from such evidence are consistent only with the defendant’s guilt and inconsistent with any rational hypothesis except that of guilt.


Id.  To successfully challenge a verdict based on circumstantial evidence, an appellant must demonstrate that the evidence is consistent with a rational theory other than guilt.  Id. 

            Here, as already noted, the only issue in dispute was whether appellant had constructive possession of the methamphetamine found at the place where he was staying.  In order to prove constructive possession, the state must show (1) the contraband substance was in a place under the defendant’s exclusive control, to which others do not normally have access; or (2) if others have access, the defendant was at the time consciously or knowingly exercising dominion and control over the substance question.  State v. Florine, 303 Minn. 103, 105, 226 N.W.2d 609, 611 (1975).  “Essentially, the constructive possession doctrine permits a conviction where the state cannot prove actual possession, but the inference is strong that the defendant physically possessed the item at one time and did not abandon his possessory interest in it.”  State v. Smith, 619 N.W.2d 766, 770 (Minn. App. 2000), review denied (Minn. Jan. 16, 2001). 

            Several witnesses testified that the methamphetamine was found in an area contemporaneously occupied by appellant, next to possessions identified with appellant. Based on the record before us, ample evidence shows that appellant exercised knowing control over, and thus constructively possessed, the methamphetamine.