This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2006).
IN COURT OF APPEALS
State of Minnesota,
George Jerry Matlock,
Reversed and remanded
Dissenting, Willis, Judge
Ramsey County District Court
File No. K1-05-003735
Lori Swanson, Attorney General, 1800
Susan Gaertner, Ramsey County Attorney, Mitchell L. Rothman, Assistant County Attorney, Suite 315, 50 West Kellogg Boulevard, St. Paul, MN 55102 (for respondent)
John M. Stuart, State Public Defender, 2221 University Avenue S.E., Suite 425, Minneapolis, MN 55414; and
Considered and decided by Willis, Presiding Judge; Minge, Judge; and Hudson, Judge.
this appeal from his conviction and sentence for felony theft, appellant
contends that the district court: (1) abused its discretion by admitting Spreigl evidence;
(2) committed plain error by giving a no-adverse-inference instruction without obtaining appellant’s consent; and (3) abused its discretion by imposing a sentence of nearly quadruple the presumptive sentence. Because we conclude that the district court abused its discretion by admitting Spreigl evidence, we reverse and remand.
September 26, 2005, a hospital employee discovered that two laptop computers
and a laptop bag were missing from her office at
employee reported the missing laptops to a
Appellant was charged with felony theft, in violation of Minn. Stat. § 609.52, subd. 2(1) (2004). The complaint also alleged that the theft “was committed as part of [a] pattern of criminal conduct.” The district court conducted a bifurcated trial. During the trial’s first phase, the hospital employees and officers testified and the state introduced evidence that appellant had been convicted of felony theft in 2003 for stealing a laptop computer from Metropolitan State University in St. Paul. Appellant did not present any evidence and the jury convicted him as charged.
The jury then reconvened to determine if appellant met the conditions of sentencing under Minn. Stat. § 609.1095, subd. 4 (Supp. 2005), the career-offender statute. The parties stipulated that appellant had five prior felony convictions, and the state argued that the theft from the hospital “was committed as part of a pattern of criminal conduct.” The jury found “that the offense has been proven beyond a reasonable doubt” and was “committed as part of a pattern of criminal conduct.”
The district court sentenced appellant as a career offender to an executed prison term of 90 months, an upward departure from the presumptive 23-month sentence. This appeal follows.
The first issue is whether the district court erred by admitting evidence of appellant’s other crimes. Appellant contends that the admission was unnecessary and prejudicial.
defendant must be tried for what he did, not for who he is.”
has developed a five-step process to determine the admissibility of other-acts
evidence: “(1) the state must give notice of its intent to admit the evidence; (2) the state must clearly indicate what the
evidence will be offered to prove; (3) there must be clear and convincing
evidence that the defendant participated in the prior act;
(4) the evidence must be relevant and material to the state’s case; and (5) the probative value of the evidence must not be outweighed by its potential prejudice to the defendant.” State v. Ness, 707 N.W.2d 676, 685-86 (
The district court
has broad discretion in determining the admissibility of Spreigl evidence. State v. Scruggs, 421 N.W.2d 707, 715 (
The various reasons for permitting Spreigl evidence have been explained and applied in numerous court decisions. Here, there is no dispute regarding steps 1, 2, and 3 (notice, purpose, or proof of the other offense). The record indicates that the state sought to introduce the evidence to prove identity and intent. The importance and relevance of the Spreigl evidence to these questions and the risk of unfair prejudice are the disputed matters in this appeal.
evidence of other crimes is received for purposes of identity . . . there must
. . . be some relationship in time, location, or modus operandi between the
crime charged and the other offenses.” State v. Billstrom, 276
this case, the Spreigl evidence was an
earlier theft of a laptop computer from an office at Metropolitan State
University in St. Paul. Appellant
pleaded guilty to this crime two years earlier.
The two crimes are similar. In
both cases, a male entered an office and took a portable computer. Both offenses occurred in
The identity question in this case is whether appellant is the man in the security video and whether that man stole the laptops and the bag. The Spreigl evidence only shows that appellant had previously stolen the same type of property – a computer. Nothing about the university theft established appellant’s identity in the case before us. The other crime indicates that appellant is a thief and implies that any obscured view of his face in the videotape should be resolved against him. Telling the jury of the other crime presents the risk of conviction for the charged theft because of the other conviction.
Although strength of the state’s case on identity is no longer an independent consideration in evaluating the admissibility of Spreigl evidence, it is still relevant when examining the probative value versus the potential prejudice of the prosecution’s proffered evidence. See Ness, 707 N.W.2d at 689-90. Here, the video clip shows a person at locations in the hospital and then leaving with a bag. Based on the video pictures, two law enforcement officers identified appellant as the person shown. Also, a physical therapist identified appellant as being in the hospital, and an investigating officer testified that appellant admitted to being at the hospital at the time in question and leaving with a bag.
Defense counsel argued that because the security video showed a person wearing a hat and dark glasses, the face is obscured, the identification is weak, and the prosecution had failed to establish, beyond a reasonable doubt, that appellant is the person in the video. The officers conceded that appellant told them he had clothes, not computers, in his bag. The district court thought the state’s identification of appellant was weak. Although questions were raised, appellant neither testified nor introduced any evidence, and his explanation to the police of why he was at the hospital and what was in the bag are, at best, dubious. Based on this record, we conclude that the state’s need for evidence to identify appellant as the thief is not determinative of the Spreigl issue and that our decision on the admissibility of Spreigl evidence should be based on the persuasiveness of the nexus between that other crime and the theft from St. Joseph’s Hospital.
state argues that Spreigl evidence
was also offered in this case to establish intent. For a conviction, the state was required to
prove that appellant “intentionally and
without claim of right” took the computers “with intent to deprive the owner permanently of possession.”
we consider the question of prejudicial effect.
Loebach, 310 N.W.2d at
64. Appellant contends that the district
court should have excluded the Spreigl evidence
because its probative value was substantially outweighed by its prejudicial effect. Specifically, appellant contends that the
state had ample “legitimate evidence,” and that it did not need to use
other-crimes evidence to prove identity and intent. To determine whether the error was
prejudicial, this court considers “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 (
The district court instructed the jury that the other-crimes evidence was not offered as proof of the defendant’s character, but rather “as proof of intent or identity.” Although we presume that jurors follow the district court’s instructions, the unavoidable temptation is to conclude a person is guilty because he committed another crime. Certainly that risk existed here. Rather than placing the focus on the circumstantial evidence of his movements within the hospital, the credibility of appellant’s story to the police, and the totality of the circumstantial evidence, the Spreigl evidence allowed the jury an easy avenue to find appellant guilty. He had stolen a computer once before. In effect, this Spreigl evidence shows appellant’s character. He is a likely candidate for conviction. Despite the cautionary instruction, there is a reasonable possibility that Spreigl evidence influenced the jury. Based on the lack of a persuasive nexus that aids in establishing identity, the irrelevance of the intent factor, and the opportunity for prejudice, we conclude that the district court abused its discretion in admitting the Spreigl evidence.
Although our reversal on the first issue disposes of this appeal, because we remand, we will address the other issues to provide guidance incident to any retrial. The second issue is whether the district court committed reversible error when it instructed the jury on a defendant’s right not to testify on his own behalf without obtaining appellant’s consent on the record. Appellant claims that his consent was required.
defendant who elects not to testify at trial has a right to not have his
silence used against him. McCollum v. State, 640 N.W.2d 610, 616 (
The final issue is whether appellant’s 90-month sentence is disproportionate to the severity of the offense and unfairly exaggerates the criminality of his conduct. Citing appellant’s 12 prior felony convictions as evidence of appellant’s “persistent disrespect for the law,” the state contends that the district court properly sentenced appellant.
we note that because of our decision on the Spreigl
issue, the sentence is vacated. But we
also note that because of the likelihood of a retrial and the possibility of a
conviction, the sentencing question is no doubt important to the parties. Accordingly, we will discuss it. We will not reverse a district court’s
decision to depart from the sentencing guidelines absent a clear abuse of
discretion. State v. Givens, 544 N.W.2d 774, 776 (
career-offender statute provides that when a judge is imposing an executed
sentence, and execution is the presumptive disposition, the factfinder may
impose an aggravated dispositional departure up to the statutory maximum “if
the factfinder determines that the offender has five or more prior felony
convictions and that the present offense is a felony that was committed as part
of a pattern of criminal conduct.”
During the trial’s second phase, the state introduced evidence of five of appellant’s prior felony convictions. The state argued that the theft from the hospital was “committed as part of a pattern of criminal conduct.” The jury returned a special verdict, finding that “the offense has been proven beyond a reasonable doubt to have been committed as part of a pattern of criminal conduct.”
the sentencing hearing, the state requested a 120-month sentence, “the maximum
sentence allowed by law.” Appellant
opposed the departure, arguing that the 23-month guidelines sentence was
appropriate. The district court
sentenced appellant as a career offender, imposing a 90-month sentence. The district court noted that it accepted the
jury’s finding that the current offense was committed as part of a pattern of
conduct. Under these circumstances, we observe that the district court did not abuse its discretion by sentencing appellant as a career offender to a 90-month executed sentence.
Reversed and remanded.
WILLIS, Judge (dissenting)
I respectfully dissent. I conclude that this case presents circumstances of precisely the kind under which the supreme court has approved the admission of other-crimes, or Spreigl, evidence to prove a defendant’s identity.
As the majority points out, there were no eyewitnesses to the theft of the two laptop computers and the computer bag from St. Joseph’s Hospital. The hospital’s surveillance video showed, at various locations in the hospital, a male suspect wearing a hat and dark glasses with his face obscured. Matlock did not testify; his defense was premised on the argument that the man appearing in the surveillance video cannot be identified as him.
Matlock was convicted of felony theft in 2003 for stealing a laptop computer from Metropolitan State University in St. Paul. The state proposed to offer evidence of that conviction as Spreigl evidence on the issues of identity and intent. The district court delayed a ruling until the state had presented its case and the district court had “reviewed all of the evidence.” The district court then assessed the strength of the state’s case on the issue of identity: “With regard to the issue of identity, I believe that the State’s case is somewhat weak on the issue of identity . . . . I find that the State has not presented overwhelming evidence of identity.” The district court emphasized that the images of the man in the surveillance video were not clear: “[I]t is possible that the jury would not believe that the person in the photograph is [Matlock]. The video surveillance is taken from a distance. The person seen in the video is wearing a hat and glasses; thus, obscuring his face from the video.” The district court proceeded to grant the state’s motion to present evidence of Matlock’s 2003 conviction for stealing a laptop computer as Spreigl evidence, and a portion of Matlock’s 2003 guilty plea was read to the jury.
The district court has broad discretion in determining the admissibility of Spreigl evidence, and we will not reverse unless the district court abused that discretion. State v. Scruggs, 421 N.W.2d 707, 715 (Minn. 1988). And the district court “generally is in a better position than an appellate court to evaluate the reasonableness of and need for other-crime evidence in a particular case.” State v. Bolte, 530 N.W.2d 191, 197 n.2 (Minn. 1995). I find no abuse of discretion here.
Further, in State v. Cogshell, the supreme court
stated that “[w]e have made it clear that we readily uphold the admission of
so-called signature crimes to prove identity. . . . [B]ut we have repeatedly said that generally
there must be some relation between the other crimes and the charged offense in
terms of time, place or modus operandi.”
538 N.W.2d 120, 123 (Minn. 1995) (quotation omitted). But the supreme court stated that the mere
fact that the prior crime was of the same generic type as the charged offense
usually is not sufficient—the example given by the supreme court was “robbery
as the majority notes, the district court instructed the jury that the
other-crimes evidence was not offered as proof of the defendant’s character,
but rather “as proof of intent or identity.”
In fact, the district court gave the jury appropriate limiting
instructions before the evidence was offered and again before the jury began
its deliberations. The majority
acknowledges that we presume that the jurors followed the district court’s
In sum, I think that the district court clearly acted within its broad discretion in ruling that evidence of the prior laptop-computer theft was admissible. See Scruggs, 421 N.W.2d at 715. And the district court carefully followed all applicable supreme-court directives in handling that evidence. It appears that the majority simply does not believe that other-crimes evidence should be admissible in a criminal case to prove the defendant’s identity. That is not the state of the law in Minnesota. I find nothing unfairly prejudicial about the admission of the Spreigl evidence here, and I would affirm.
 Rule 404(b) was recently revised to include this