may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (1996).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
State of Minnesota,
Filed May 27, 1997
Ramsey County District Court
File No. K696806
Hubert H. Humphrey, III, Attorney General, 1400 NCL Tower, 445 Minnesota Street, St. Paul, MN 55101 (for respondent)
Susan Gaertner, Ramsey County Attorney, Mark Nathan Lystig, Assistant County Attorney, 50 Kellogg Boulevard West, Suite 315, St. Paul, MN 55102 (for respondent)
Considered and decided by Lansing, Presiding Judge, Short, Judge, and Klaphake, Judge.
A jury convicted Reynaldo Garcia of second-degree intentional murder after he stabbed Linda Olson to death. On appeal, Garcia argues the trial court abused its discretion in admitting (1) statements taken from him in violation of his Fifth Amendment rights, and (2) evidence of Garcia's stabbing murder of his wife 15 years earlier. We affirm.
D E C I S I O N
Evidentiary rulings rest in the sound discretion of the trial court, and this court will not reverse a trial court's rulings absent an abuse of that discretion. State v. Olkon, 299 N.W.2d 89, 101 (Minn. 1980), cert. denied, 449 U.S. 1132 (1981); see also State v. Norris, 428 N.W.2d 61, 69 (Minn. 1988) (placing admission of Spreigl evidence within trial court's discretion). We uphold a trial court's findings of fact surrounding the giving of a statement unless clearly erroneous. State v. Williams, 535 N.W.2d 277, 286 (Minn. 1995). However, this court makes an independent determination of whether a confession was voluntarily given, applying constitutional principles to the facts as found. Id.
Garcia argues the trial court erred in admitting statements he made to police prior to being given Miranda warnings. Generally, statements made during custodial interrogation are inadmissible in trial unless the suspect is advised of his or her Fifth Amendment rights and intelligently waives the right against self-incrimination. Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 444-45, 86 S. Ct. 1602, 1612-13 (1966); State v. Provost, 490 N.W.2d 93, 96 (Minn. 1992), cert. denied, 507 U.S. 929 (1993). An individual is "in custody" within the meaning of Miranda if a reasonable person under the circumstances would believe he or she was in police custody of the degree associated with formal arrest. State v. Champion, 533 N.W.2d 40, 43 (Minn. 1995); see also State v. Martin, 297 Minn. 470, 472, 212 N.W.2d 847, 849 (1973) (stating individual need not be apprised of constitutional rights until person is in custody and investigation focuses on him).
A Miranda warning is not required prior to questioning when officers are "simply trying to get a preliminary explanation of a confusing situation." State v. Walsh, 495 N.W.2d 602, 604-05 (Minn. 1993). In such circumstances, officers may ask relatively general questions to "sort out the situation" and determine whether an arrest should be made. Id. at 605; accord Martin, 297 Minn. at 473, 212 N.W.2d at 849 (admitting statements made in response to questioning by police in course of preliminary investigation, before police had reasonable grounds to believe crime had been committed or defendant was perpetrator). At a certain point, however, a situation may become custodial, in which case Miranda warnings are required before further interrogation may take place. See Walsh, 495 N.W.2d at 605 (holding statements taken after police found victim's body and handcuffed defendant to stair railing violated Miranda).
Garcia does not dispute that the initial statement he made to police in the station lobby, confessing to murder, was voluntary and admissible. See Williams, 535 N.W.2d at 289 (stating admission of defendant's volunteered statement is not barred by Fifth Amendment). However, while the trial court found Garcia was not in custody until handcuffed, Garcia argues he was subject to custodial interrogation, and thus should have been given Miranda warnings, at the point police brought him back to the nonpublic area of the station. We agree. The record demonstrates that by the time the officers escorted Garcia from the station lobby, Garcia had: (1) confessed to killing his girlfriend; (2) given the victim's name; (3) told the officers the murder occurred Friday night; (4) reported that the murder weapon was a knife; (5) described the circumstances of the murder; and (6) provided a rough location of the scene of the murder. Additionally, the officers testified they believed Garcia was possibly telling the truth about the crime. When ushered to the nonpublic area of a police station under these circumstances, a reasonable person would believe he or she was in police custody of the degree associated with formal arrest. We conclude that at the point of Garcia's transfer, the police officers had completed their preliminary investigatory questions and the interrogation became custodial.
Before subjecting Garcia to custodial interrogation, it was incumbent on the police officers to read him his Fifth Amendment rights. See Miranda, 384 U.S. at 444-45, 86 S. Ct. at 1612-13 (requiring advisement of rights prior to custodial interrogation). Although the officers failed to do so, the trial court admitted Garcia's subsequent statements under the "rescue" exception to Miranda. The rescue doctrine excuses Miranda warning requirements where necessary to save human life or rescue persons whose lives are in danger. Provost, 490 N.W.2d at 96 (quoting People v. Riddle, 148 Cal. Rptr. 170, 176 (Cal. Ct. App. 1978), cert. denied, 440 U.S. 937 (1979)). Application of the doctrine requires the presence of: (1) urgency of need, in that no other course of action promises relief; (2) the possibility of saving human life; and (3) rescue as the primary purpose and motive of the interrogators. Id. (applying rescue doctrine where defendant asked police to send ambulance because he had burned wife and left her in woods).
Garcia correctly argues this situation does not satisfy the requirements of the rescue doctrine because: (1) once Garcia began directing the police to the victim's apartment in the squad car, there was no urgency in asking Garcia additional questions, and the police had ample time to administer Miranda warnings in the car; (2) Garcia gave the police no reason to believe the victim was alive, and, in fact, stated he was "sure" she was dead; and (3) the officers' broad ranging questions, including inquiries into the clothing Garcia wore during the murders, do not indicate that rescue was the primary motive of the interrogation. Therefore, the trial court abused its discretion by admitting the statements, with the exception of general biographical information, that Garcia made after police transferred him to the station's back room. See State v. Link, 289 N.W.2d 102, 107 (Minn. 1979) (holding Miranda does not limit biographical questions).
However, an erroneous admission of evidence does not constitute reversible error if it was "harmless beyond a reasonable doubt." See State v. Townsend, 546 N.W.2d 292, 297 (Minn. 1996) (holding reversal of conviction is not required if weight of all other evidence was such that it justified verdict regardless of erroneously admitted evidence) (citation omitted). The evidence the trial court admitted in error consisted of Garcia's statements: (1) directing police to the precise location of the victim's apartment; (2) that he had a key to the apartment; and (3) that at the time of the murder, he wore the same clothes and shoes he was wearing presently. Given that the trial court had properly admitted Garcia's statements confessing to the murder of his girlfriend, giving the victim's name, describing the circumstances of the murder, and reporting the general location of the body, we must conclude the erroneous admission of Garcia's subsequent statements was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt.
Garcia also argues the trial court abused its discretion in admitting evidence of Garcia's 15-year-old third-degree murder conviction for the stabbing death of his wife. Evidence of a prior crime committed by a defendant is inadmissible to show the defendant's character in order to prove the defendant acted in conformity therewith. Minn. R. Evid. 404(b); State v. Doughman, 384 N.W.2d 450, 453 (Minn. 1986); see State v. Spreigl, 272 Minn. 488, 496, 139 N.W.2d 167, 172 (1965) (warning against "natural and inevitable tendency of the tribunal" to allow other crimes evidence to bear too strongly on present charge) (citation omitted). Such evidence may be admitted for other purposes, however, such as establishing motive, intent, or the existence of a common plan or scheme. Minn. R. Evid. 404(b); State v. Forsman, 260 N.W.2d 160, 167 (Minn. 1977). These categories of evidence serve a legitimate evidentiary function apart from raising an inference that the defendant probably committed the charged offense because he has committed others. Id.
Even when offered for a proper purpose, evidence of a prior crime is admissible at trial only if relevant and material to the state's case. Doughman, 384 N.W.2d at 454; see Minn. R. Evid. 402 (providing irrelevant evidence is inadmissible). In determining the relevance of prior crimes evidence, the proper inquiry is on the closeness of the relationship between the other crimes and the charged crime in terms of time, place, and modus operandi. State v. Frisinger, 484 N.W.2d 27, 31 (Minn. 1992). Even when evidence of a prior crime fits within a traditional 404(b) exception, a trial court must still weigh the probative value of the evidence against its potential to cause unfair prejudice to the defendant's case. Forsman, 260 N.W.2d at 167.
To prove intent and common plan or scheme, the state presented evidence that, in 1980, Garcia had intentionally stabbed his wife 27 times, killing her, and then telephoned police to turn himself in. The trial court permitted the police officer who received that call to testify for the state and introduce nine photographs of the crime scene and the autopsy of that victim. While the two crimes were distant in time, Garcia concedes that the circumstances of the 1980 homicide were substantially similar to the those of the current offense. However, the photographic evidence of the crime scene and autopsy was highly inflammatory and posed a great danger of misuse by the jury. See Spreigl, 272 Minn. at 496, 139 N.W.2d at 172 (noting the "over-strong tendency to believe the defendant guilty of the charge merely because he is a likely person to do such acts") (citation omitted). Under these circumstances, the potential for unfair prejudice arising from the photographic evidence of Garcia's prior homicide substantially outweighed its probative value. Therefore, the trial court abused its discretion in admitting the nine photographs of the crime scene and autopsy.
A trial court's erroneous admission of prior crimes evidence, however, is reversible only if a reasonable possibility exists that the evidence significantly affected the verdict. State v. Bolte, 530 N.W.2d 191, 198 (Minn. 1995). In the course of Garcia's trial, the jury heard: (1) his description of the events leading to the murder; (2) police testimony they found the victim's body in the apartment to which Garcia led them; (3) testimony from the victim's daughter, who knew Garcia and heard him screaming at her mother in the background during a telephone call the night of the murder; (4) the medical examiner's testimony that the victim bled to death as a result of over 100 stab wounds; and (5) the victim's psychologist's testimony the victim had told him of her fear of Garcia's possessiveness. The defense did not put on its own case. Given the trial record, we must conclude no reasonable possibility exists that the jury's verdict of guilty would have been different absent the evidence of Garcia's prior crime.