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,
Daniel Patrick Lawler,
Filed June 10, 1997
Washington County District Court
File No. K5956155
Richard M. Arney, Washington County Attorney, John W. Fristik, Assistant County Attorney, 14900 61st Street North, P.O. Box 6, Stillwater, MN 55082 (for Respondent)
Lawrence W. Pry, Assistant State Public Defender, 875 Summit Avenue, LEC 304, St. Paul, MN 55105 (for Appellant)
Considered and decided by Willis, Presiding Judge, Randall, Judge, and Klaphake, Judge.
This appeal is from a judgment of conviction for attempted first-degree murder, first-degree aggravated robbery, first-degree assault, second-degree assault, first-degree burglary, and kidnapping. Appellant Daniel Lawler contends the district court abused its discretion in admitting Spreigl evidence. We affirm.
Schell testified that after a harrowing night of threats, demands, and assaults, Lawler fell asleep, and Schell was able to leave the house to call police. When police arrived at Schell's house, Lawler was sleeping on the living room couch. He had blood on his hands and pants. Schell was taken to the hospital, where he was treated for stab wounds in his neck and chest and a collapsed left lung.
Lawler's defense was intoxication. He admitted at trial that he had a Missouri conviction for felony possession of marijuana and a 1993 Minnesota conviction for attempted robbery. Lawler explained the circumstances of his Missouri offense, stating that he had been in treatment for chemical dependency three times. Lawler also testified that he had violated his probation in Missouri by driving while intoxicated.
The district court ruled that because Lawler had testified to the facts underlying his marijuana conviction, and because the attempted robbery conviction was relevant to rebut the defense of intoxication, the state could present evidence of the facts of the 1993 attempted robbery. The prosecutor on cross-examination elicited from Lawler an admission that in March 1993 he had entered the car of a 74-year-old woman in a casino parking lot and pushed her out of the driver's seat trying to get her purse.
The district court gave an instruction on the defense of intoxication. The court also gave a cautionary instruction on the limited use of the Spreigl evidence. The jury found Lawler guilty on all counts.
The supreme court has twice affirmed the use of Spreigl evidence in rebuttal. Id. at 292; State v. Brant, 345 N.W.2d 248, 249 (Minn. 1984). In both cases the Spreigl offense was strikingly similar to the charged offense. In more recent cases, the supreme court has emphasized that evidence of other bad acts presented in rebuttal was Spreigl evidence, but was used to counter directly the defendant's testimony about events immediately preceding the charged offense. See State v. Swanson, 498 N.W.2d 435, 440 (Minn. 1993) (concluding that evidence that appellant and accomplice had stalked another woman on night of murder was admitted not as Spreigl evidence, "but rather as rebuttal evidence"); State v. Sullivan, 502 N.W.2d 200, 203 (Minn. 1993) (following Swanson, which involved same crime).
Rebuttal evidence is evidence that "explains, contradicts, or refutes earlier evidence and is admitted at the discretion of the trial court." State v. Gore, 451 N.W.2d 313, 316 (Minn. 1990). Evidence that the defendant has committed another offense generally does not directly refute, or even explain, defense evidence. To use Spreigl evidence for rebuttal purposes, particularly at the end of trial, where it has additional prominence and may imply some direct relevance to the charged offense, exceeds the limited rationale for admitting Spreigl evidence. See generally State v. Frisinger, 484 N.W.2d 27, 31 (Minn. 1992) (concluding that preferred approach in deciding admissibility of Spreigl evidence is to focus on closeness of relationship between other crime(s) and charged offense). If a Spreigl offense is sufficiently similar to the charged offense, and the other Spreigl requirements are met, it would be admissible in the state's case-in-chief. Spreigl offenses that are not greatly similar to the charged offense should not be held over a defendant's head as potential rebuttal evidence to deter him or her from presenting a particular defense.
In this case, the Spreigl evidence was not presented at the close of trial, but rather during the cross-examination of Lawler. If the facts of the 1993 offense, which may have occurred after Lawler ran out of gambling money, had been fully developed, the offense might have been sufficiently similar to be admitted as Spreigl evidence in the state's case-in-chief. Moreover, the defense had explored the facts underlying Lawler's other prior offense, which to a limited extent may have "opened the door" to exploration of the 1993 offense.
But we need not decide whether admission of the Spreigl evidence was error because it was harmless in any event. The erroneous admission of other-crime evidence requires a new trial only if there is a "reasonable possibility" that the verdict would have been more favorable to the defendant if the wrongfully admitted evidence had not been received. State v. Post, 512 N.W.2d 99, 102 n.2 (Minn. 1994). The state's case, including evidence of a series of purposeful actions by Lawler over an extended time, was very strong. The prosecutor made no mention of the 1993 offense in his closing argument and the district court gave a cautionary instruction on the use of the Spreigl evidence. See State v. Bolte, 530 N.W.2d 191, 198-99 (Minn. 1995) (listing relevant harmless error factors, including fact that prosecutor did not rely on disputed evidence in closing argument and fact that court gave appropriate cautionary instruction when requested).