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,
Robert John Heibel,
File No. K596838
Hubert H. Humphrey, III, Attorney General, Robert A. Stanich, Assistant Attorney General, 1400 NCL Tower, 445 Minnesota Street, St. Paul, MN 55101, and
Thomas J. Simmons, Renville County Attorney, Commerce Building, P.O. Box D, Olivia, MN 56277 (for respondent)
John M. Stuart, Public Defender, Ann Brom McCaughan, Assistant Public Defender, 2829 University Avenue SE, Suite 600, Minneapolis, MN 55414 (for appellant)
Considered and decided by Toussaint, Chief Judge, Short, Judge, and Forsberg, Judge.[*]
A jury convicted Robert John Heibel of third-degree criminal sexual conduct in violation of Minn. Stat. § 609.344, subd. 1(b) (1996). On appeal Heibel argues the trial court erred in admitting a prior conviction as Spreigl evidence. We affirm.
A trial court exercises discretion in evidentiary rulings, and we will not reverse such a ruling absent an abuse of that discretion. State v. Olkon, 299 N.W.2d 89, 101 (Minn. 1980); see State v. Norris, 428 N.W.2d 61, 69 (Minn. 1988) (placing admission of Spreigl evidence within trial court's discretion).
Evidence that a defendant committed a prior crime is inadmissible to show character as a basis for inference that defendant acted in conformity with that trait on a particular occasion. 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 is admissible to establish 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). However, 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 (quoting State v. Morrison, 310 N.W.2d 135, 137 (Minn. 1981)); see Minn. R. Evid. 402 (providing irrelevant evidence is inadmissible).
In determining the relevance of prior crimes evidence, courts determine 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). If the relationship between the other crimes and charged crimes is close, "the greater the relevance or probative value of the evidence and the lesser is the likelihood that evidence will be used for an improper purpose." Id.
Heibel argues the trial court violated his right to a fair trial by admitting other crime evidence unnecessary to the state's case. However, the record demonstrates: (1) Heibel's 1994 conviction involved almost identical conduct and was charged under the same statutory subdivision as the current charge; (2) the victim here was a 15-year-old who admitted she initially lied to law enforcement officials about her relationship with Heibel to protect him; (3) the victim was unable to identify the specific dates on which sexual intercourse occurred; (4) no physical evidence corroborated the victim's account; (5) although Heibel admitted to officers that the victim performed fellatio on him, he denied they engaged in any sexual activity; (6) the trial court gave cautionary instructions at the time of admission and instruction; (7) two witnesses testified the victim had been untruthful; and (8) one victim's mother testified she did not approve of the charges against Heibel. Under these circumstances, the trial court properly exercised its discretion in finding the Spreigl evidence necessary to the state's case and more probative than prejudicial. See, e.g., State v. Wermerskirchen, 497 N.W.2d 235, 243 (Minn. 1993) (concluding prosecutor properly argued other-crimes evidence, which was "relevant to show defendant did what he was accused of doing and to show his intent"); State v. Berry, 484 N.W.2d 14, 17-18 (Minn. 1992) (concluding evidence relevant where it served to complete picture of defendant, to put current conduct in its proper and relevant context, and not to paint another picture or lead jury to convict on basis of irrelevancy).
[*] Retired judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals, serving by appointment pursuant to Minn. Const. art. VI, § 10.