STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
State of Minnesota,
Fithi Chernet Asfaha,
Filed November 2, 1999
Olmsted County District Court
File No. K8960546
Mike Hatch, Attorney General, 525 Park Street, Suite 500, St. Paul, MN 55103; and
Raymond F. Schmitz, Olmsted County Attorney, Richard W. Jackson, Jr., Assistant County Attorney, 151 Southeast Fourth Street, Rochester, MN 55904 (for respondent)
John M. Stuart, State Public Defender, Susan J. Andrews, Assistant Public Defender, 2829 University Avenue Southeast, Suite 600, Minneapolis, MN 55414 (for appellant)
Considered and decided by Short, Presiding Judge, Willis, Judge, and Anderson, Judge.
A jury convicted Fithi Chernet Asfaha of fifth-degree assault in violation of Minn. Stat. § 609.224, subds. 1(2) and 2(b) (1998). On appeal, Asfaha argues: (1) the evidence is insufficient to support the verdict; and (2) the trial court abused its discretion in admitting a prior conviction as Spreigl evidence. We affirm.
Asfaha argues the evidence supporting his conviction was insufficient for the jury to reject his self-defense claim. The record shows: (1) Asfaha initially approached and confronted the victim, Timothy Meyer; (2) Meyer told Asfaha he did not want to fight and Asfaha had mistaken him for someone else; (3) Meyer retreated away from Asfaha; (4) Asfaha took the first swing; (5) Meyer struck Asfaha only when backed against a store window; (6) Asfaha continued to strike Meyer after he fell to the ground; (7) Meyer suffered abrasions to his face and hands. Given these facts, the evidence sufficiently supports the jury's fifth-degree assault conviction of Asfaha.
Although generally inadmissible, a trial court may admit evidence of prior crimes as proof of motive, opportunity, intent, preparation, plan, knowledge, identity, or absence of mistake or accident. Minn. R. Evid. 404(b). In determining the relevance of prior crimes evidence, the trial court examines the closeness of the relationship between the other crimes and the charged crime in terms of time, place, and modus operandi. State v. Bolte, 530 N.W.2d 191, 198 (Minn. 1995). The closer the relationship between the other crimes and charged crime, "the greater the relevance or probative value of the evidence and the lesser the likelihood that the evidence will be used for an improper purpose." Id.
Asfaha argues the trial court improperly admitted Spreigl evidence because the evidence was more prejudicial than probative. See Kennedy, 585 N.W.2d at 389 (holding evidence of prior crimes inadmissible unless probative value outweighs potential for unfair prejudice). The record demonstrates: (1) Asfaha presented a self-defense claim; (2) witnesses gave conflicting testimony about the incident; (3) Asfaha's 1996 conviction for first-degree assault involved almost identical conduct and motivation; and (4) the trial court gave cautionary instructions at the time of admission and instruction. Under these circumstances, the trial court properly exercised its discretion in finding the Spreigl evidence more probative than prejudicial. See State v. Smith, 541 N.W.2d 584, 589 (Minn. 1996) (finding evidence defendant actively participated in similar robbery relevant to rebut self-defense claim).