may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (1996).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Warren Stanley Williams, petitioner,
State of Minnesota,
Filed October 14, 1997
Hennepin County District Court
File No. 95094226
Mark J. Carpenter, Special Assistant State Public Defender, Faegre & Benson, LLP, 2200 Northwest Center, 90 South Seventh Street, Minneapolis, MN 55402 (for appellant)
Hubert H. Humphrey III, Attorney General, 1100 NCL Tower, 445 Minnesota Street, St. Paul, MN 55101-2128; and
Michael O. Freeman, Hennepin County Attorney, Linda M. Freyer, Assistant County Attorney, Hennepin County Government Center, 2200 Court Tower, 300 South Sixth Street, Minneapolis, MN 55487-0501 (for respondent)
Considered and decided by Klaphake, Presiding Judge, Davies, Judge, and Peterson, Judge.
Appellant Warren Stanley Williams challenges the denial of his petition for postconviction relief, arguing that (1) the evidence presented at trial was insufficient to establish his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt; and (2) the trial court abused its discretion by admitting evidence of his prior convictions. We affirm.
Just after midnight, appellant was on Knox Avenue in Minneapolis talking to Marcus Trotter, Gary Williams, and Charles Scott. While the men talked, a police car approached them. Officer Lyle Delaney, one of the officers in the car, identified appellant at trial and testified that he had seen appellant approach several cars earlier that evening in what he suspected to be drug transactions. Delaney also testified that as his car turned the corner, he saw Marcus Trotter talking with somebody in a stopped car. As Delaney shone his car's spotlight on the four men, the stopped car sped away and the four men began to walk away quickly.
Delaney testified that as he was exiting his squad car, he saw appellant reach into his pocket, remove his hand with a clenched fist, make a motion as if dropping or throwing something, and then walk away. Delaney stated that he had the spotlight focused on Trotter the entire time, but the light's reflection was on appellant. He also stated that he did not see appellant drop anything, and he did not see anything actually leave appellant's hand.
Delaney instructed Officer David Gray, who was approaching the scene on foot, to stop the individuals walking away from the scene. After the individuals were stopped, Gray discovered wrapped bundles of crack cocaine in the spot where Delaney saw appellant motion as if to drop or throw something.
D E C I S I O N
In postconviction proceedings, the petitioner bears the burden of proving, by a fair preponderance of the evidence, facts that warrant relief. Minn. Stat. § 590.04, subd.3 (1996). On appeal from a denial of postconviction relief, the reviewing court is limited to determining whether there is sufficient evidence to sustain the findings of the postconviction court. Scruggs v. State, 484 N.W.2d 21, 25 (Minn. 1992). Absent an abuse of discretion, a postconviction decision will not be disturbed on appeal. Id.
When the sufficiency of the evidence is challenged, this court must review
the record to determine whether the evidence, when viewed in a light most favorable to the conviction, was sufficient to permit the jurors to reach the verdict which they did.
State v. Webb, 440 N.W.2d 426, 430 (Minn. 1989). The court must assume "the jury believed the state's witnesses and disbelieved any evidence to the contrary." State v. Moore, 438 N.W.2d 101, 108 (Minn. 1989). This court will affirm a conviction based on circumstantial evidence "when the reasonable inferences from such evidence are consistent only with defendant's guilt and inconsistent with any rational hypothesis except that of guilt." State v. Alton, 432 N.W.2d 754, 756 (Minn. 1988). "A jury normally is in the best position to evaluate circumstantial evidence, and * * * their verdict is entitled to due deference." Webb, 440 N.W.2d at 430.
A person who "unlawfully possesses one or more mixtures containing a controlled substance" is guilty of fifth degree controlled substance crime in the fifth degree. Minn. Stat. § 152.025, subd. (2)(1) (1992).
Appellant argues that the evidence presented at trial was insufficient to establish his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt because the evidence was strictly circumstantial and was reasonably consistent with the hypothesis that one of the other three men in his group tossed the crack cocaine to the ground. Appellant also argues that there is a strong possibility that he was a victim of police misidentification. The postconviction court found the evidence sufficient to support a conviction and concluded that based upon the evidence presented at trial, "the jury could both logically and reasonably infer that [appellant] did indeed possess crack cocaine."
Delaney testified that: (1) he saw four men engaged in what appeared to be a drug transaction; (2) as he stopped his squad car and aimed his spotlight at the four men, he saw appellant turn his back to the squad car, reach in his pants pocket, remove his hand with a clenched fist, make a motion as if dropping or throwing something by opening his hand, and then walk down the street; (3) he was approximately fifty feet from appellant when he saw him reach into his pocket, the spotlight was focused on Trotter, but illuminated a wide area so he was able to see appellant; and (4) he directed the attention of Officer Gray to the exact spot where he saw appellant open his hand as if dropping or throwing something.
Gray testified that: (1) he received a call from Delaney indicating that Delaney had observed activity consistent with drug dealing; (2) Delaney told him that he had seen appellant make a motion as if throwing something to the ground and it should be on the sidewalk within a few feet from Gray; and (3) he used his flashlight and illuminated the sidewalk and saw what appeared to be five individually wrapped bundles of crack cocaine lying next to the sidewalk.
Appellant's argument that one of the other men at the scene could have tossed the crack cocaine is not supported by the record. See State v. Wallace, 558 N.W.2d 469, 472 (Minn. 1997) (conjecture does not justify reversal; the alternative theory must be supported by the record). Delaney testified that he saw appellant make a throwing or tossing motion in the exact area where the crack cocaine was found. He further testified that he did not observe anything indicating that one of the other men could have dropped the crack cocaine.
Appellant's argument that he was the victim of police misidentification is also not supported by the record. Delaney gave detailed testimony about appellant's physical appearance on the night in question, including that appellant was wearing a red shirt, below-the-knee shorts, and a cap. An employee of the Hennepin County Sheriff's Department testified that jail records signed by appellant on the night he was arrested demonstrated that the clothes appellant was wearing matched the description given by Delaney.
Assuming, as we must, that the factfinder believed the evidence presented by the state and disbelieved any contrary evidence, we conclude that the postconviction court did not abuse its descretion in concluding that the evidence was sufficient to support appellant's conviction. The only reasonable inference from the evidence is that appellant possessed crack cocaine.
Evidence of a prior conviction within the last ten years is admissible to impeach a witness' credibility if (1) the crime was punishable by imprisonment exceeding one year and (2) the court finds that the probative value of the evidence outweighs its prejudicial effect. Minn. R. Evid. 609(a)-(b). A trial court has broad discretion in determining what convictions are admissible to impeach a defendant. State v. Gassler, 505 N.W.2d 62, 67 (Minn. 1993). "Whether the probative value of the convictions outweighs their prejudicial effect is a matter left to the discretion of the trial court." State v. Graham, 371 N.W.2d 204, 208 (Minn. 1985). We will not reverse the trial court's decision to admit prior conviction evidence absent a clear abuse of discretion. Id. at 209.
Appellant argues that the probative value of his convictions was minimal, and the potential for prejudice was great because of the danger that the jury would identify him as a repeat felon and focus on his bad character, rather than solely on his character for truthtelling.
Some of the factors the trial court considers when determining whether the probative value of a prior conviction outweighs its prejudicial effect are:
(1) the impeachment value of the prior crime, (2) the date of the conviction and the defendant's subsequent history, (3) the similarity of the past crime with the charged crime (the greater the similarity, the greater the reason for not permitting use of the prior crime to impeach), (4) the importance of defendant's testimony, and (5) the centrality of the credibility issue.
State v. Jones, 271 N.W.2d 534, 537-38 (Minn. 1978).
The postconviction court held that appellant's prior felony convictions were admissible because appellant's credibility was critical to the case and the probative value of the convictions outweighed any prejudicial effect. The postconviction court also noted that the convictions were well within the ten year limit provided in the rule and were not similar in any way to the offense at bar.
Appellant's prior convictions had significant impeachment value under the theory that the convictions enabled the jury to see the whole person and thereby better judge the truth of the defendant's statements. See State v. Lloyd, 345 N.W.2d 240, 247 (Minn. 1984) (underlying Minn. R. Evid. 609 is principle that impeachment by prior conviction assists jury in judging credibility of witness by affording it opportunity to view whole person). Appellant's prior convictions are all within six years and a few months of his arrest for possession of crack cocaine. The charge of drug possession is significantly different from the prior offenses. Finally, because appellant's testimony was essentially the only testimony supporting the theory that someone else dropped the crack cocaine, his credibility was a central issue in the case. The jury had to choose whether to believe appellant's or the police officer's testimony. Under these circumstances, the trial court did not clearly abuse its discretion in ruling that appellant's convictions were admissible for impeachment purposes.