STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
State of Minnesota,
Jonathan Roger Johnson,
Filed November 23, 1999
Stearns County District Court
File No. K1982752
Mike Hatch, Attorney General, Catherine M. Keane, Assistant Attorney General, 525 Park Street, Suite 500, St. Paul, MN 55103; and
Roger S. Van Heel, Stearns County Attorney, Administration Center, Room 448, 705 Courthouse Square, St. Cloud, MN 56302 (for respondent)
John M. Stuart, State Public Defender, Scott G. Swanson, Assistant Public Defender, 2829 University Avenue Southeast, Suite 600, Minneapolis, MN 55414 (for appellant)
Considered and decided by Amundson, Presiding Judge, Lansing, Judge, and Peterson, Judge.
In this appeal from a conviction for receiving stolen property, appellant Jonathan Roger Johnson argues that the trial court erred when it admitted evidence of a prior conviction for receiving stolen property. We affirm.
Chief Bradley Lindgren of the St. Joseph Police Department was dispatched to the apartment. When he pulled up to garage #111, the door was open and he saw appellant and two other men, Daniel Crafton and Johnny Lee Bratton, standing by a silver Ford Mustang, with a license number that matched the stolen Mustang. As Lindgren approached the garage, the men shut the door and left the garage in different directions. Lindgren detained and questioned the men. None of them could provide a definite answer as to who owned the vehicle.
The St. Joseph police executed a search warrant for garage #111. While they were searching the garage, the tenant of the apartment to which garage #111 was assigned, came out to the garage and told police that the Mustang was not hers. She said that it belonged to appellant, who had been storing the car in her garage for approximately a month and a half.
Appellant was charged by complaint with one count of receiving stolen property in violation of Minn. Stat. §§ 609.53, subd. 1, 609.52, subd. 3 (1996). During the jury trial, the tenant testified that she did not know that the Mustang was stolen, and that she allowed appellant to store it in her garage because he told her that he did not have a garage and he was afraid the car might get vandalized in his neighborhood. Bratton testified that when Lindgren approached the garage, he and Crafton were trying to help appellant start the Mustang and appellant yelled, "Oh, the police," or "There's the police," and told them to get out of the garage and shut the door. Bratton also testified that appellant told him that he was "taking the car to the Cities to get rid of it." Susan Kerkaert, a friend and roommate of appellant at the time of his arrest, testified that appellant had never mentioned a Ford Mustang and that they lived in a quiet neighborhood and had a garage available to them.
Before trial, the state notified appellant that it intended to introduce evidence of appellant's earlier conviction for receiving stolen property, for purposes of showing modus operandi. At the close of the state's case, over appellant's objection, the trial court allowed the state to introduce evidence of the conviction, but denied the state's motion to admit evidence of other crimes. The prosecutor read into evidence a transcript from a September 17, 1997, guilty plea hearing in which appellant admitted that stolen property worth more than $2,500 was found in his apartment; that this property came from four garage burglaries; that he was aware that the property was stolen; and that he was the person who brought all of the property to his apartment. Appellant was found guilty of one count of receiving stolen property.
The decision to admit other crimes evidence, commonly referred to in Minnesota as Spreigl evidence, after the supreme court's decision in State v. Spreigl, 272 Minn. 488, 139 N.W.2d 167 (1965), lies within the discretion of the trial court and will be allowed to stand absent an abuse of discretion. State v. DeWald, 464 N.W.2d 500, 502-03 (Minn. 1991). A defendant has the burden of showing that the trial court erred in admitting this evidence. State v. Moorman, 505 N.W.2d 593, 601 (Minn. 1993).
As a general rule, evidence of other crimes or misconduct is not admissible to prove the defendant's character for the purpose of showing that he acted in conformity with that character. Minn. R. Evid. 404(b). However, other crimes evidence may be admitted for the limited purpose of showing motive, intent, absence of mistake or accident, identity, or a common scheme or plan. Minn. R. Evid. 404(b); DeWald, 464 N.W.2d at 502-03.
Other crimes evidence shall not be admitted in a criminal prosecution unless (1) notice is given that the state intends to use the evidence; (2) the state clearly indicates what the evidence is being offered to prove; (3) the evidence is clear and convincing that the defendant participated in the other offense; (4) the evidence is relevant and material to the state's case; and (5) the probative value of the evidence is not outweighed by its potential for unfair prejudice. State v. Kennedy, 585 N.W.2d 385, 389 (Minn. 1998). When it is unclear whether Spreigl evidence is admissible, the benefit of the doubt should be given to the defendant and the evidence should be excluded. State v. Johnson, 568 N.W.2d 426, 433 (Minn. 1997).
A. Relevance and Materiality
In determining the relevance and materiality of Spreigl evidence, the trial court should consider the issues in the case, the reasons and need for the evidence, and whether there is a sufficiently close relationship between the charged offense and the Spreigl offense in time, place or modus operandi. The closer the relationship between the events, the greater the relevance or probative value of the evidence and the lesser the likelihood the evidence will be used for an improper purpose. [The supreme court] has been flexible in applying this test on appeal, upholding admission notwithstanding lack of closeness in time or place if the relevance of the evidence was otherwise clear.
Kennedy, 585 N.W.2d at 390 (quotations and citations omitted). A Spreigl offense
need not be identical in every way to the charged crime, but must instead be sufficiently or substantially similar to the charged offense - determined by time, place and modus operandi.
Id. at 391 (citations omitted).
Appellant claims that the Spreigl evidence was not relevant because the two crimes occurred a year apart. But a close temporal relationship is not absolutely necessary if the Spreigl evidence is otherwise relevant. State v. Sebasky, 547 N.W.2d 93, 98 (Minn. App. 1996) (affirming admission of Spreigl evidence when 10 or 12 years elapsed between Spreigl acts and charged crimes), review denied (Minn. June 19, 1996).
Appellant also contends that the Spreigl evidence was not relevant to the charged offense because the two crimes were different in terms of place and modus operandi. Appellant argues that the Spreigl offense involved the storage of stolen property with a value exceeding $2,500 at his own apartment, whereas the charged offense involved the storage of a car with a value exceeding $10,000 in another person's garage. A Spreigl offense "need not be identical in every way to the charged crime, but must instead be sufficiently or substantially similar to the charged offense." Kennedy, 585 N.W.2d at 391. The record demonstrates that in September 1997, appellant pleaded guilty to receiving stolen property. Appellant admitted he knew that the stolen property came from four garage burglaries and that he received the property and kept in it his apartment. Thus, both the charged offense and the Spreigl offense involved receiving stolen property taken during garage burglaries. Given these similarities, we cannot say that the trial court abused its discretion by concluding that the Spreigl evidence was relevant and material.
B. Probative Value Versus Prejudicial Effect
Even if Spreigl evidence is relevant, it "may be excluded if its probative value is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice." Minn. R. Evid. 403. The trial court must balance the probative value of the evidence against the prejudicial effect before admitting Spreigl evidence. State v. Bolte, 530 N.W.2d 191, 197 (Minn. 1995).
When balancing the probative value of Spreigl evidence against the potential for unfair prejudice, the trial court must consider how necessary the Spreigl evidence is to the state's case.State v. Lynch, 590 N.W.2d 75, 81 (Minn. 1999) (citation omitted).
Appellant argues that the Spreigl evidence was highly prejudicial because it identified him as having a prior conviction for receiving stolen property and had the effect of encouraging the jury to convict him for prior misconduct rather than the charged offense. We conclude that the trial court was within its discretion when it determined that the Spreigl evidence was more probative than prejudicial. The defense contended that appellant did not know that the Mustang was stolen and that appellant had not even seen the Mustang until July 16, 1998, when the tenant asked him to help her start it. Both the tenant and a friend of the tenant testified that appellant was in possession of the Mustang before July 16, 1998, but their credibility was impeached by the defense using prior felony convictions. Thus, the Spreigl evidence was necessary to bolster the state's proof that appellant was in possession of the Mustang and that he knew that the car was stolen.
The record also reflects that the trial court took measures to protect appellant against unfair prejudice by admitting only evidence of appellant's guilty plea for possession of stolen property traced to garage burglaries. The court denied admission of evidence of convictions for criminal damage to property, illegal possession of a firearm, and burglary. In addition, the trial court gave the jury cautionary instructions both at the time the Spreigl evidence was received and at the end of the trial. See Lynch, 590 N.W.2d at 81 (court assured that jury did not give improper weight to Spreigl evidence by giving cautionary instruction); State v. Waukazo, 374 N.W.2d 563, 565 (Minn. App. 1985) (court guarded against undue prejudice by giving a cautionary instruction before Spreigl evidence was presented and in final charge), review denied (Minn. Nov. 1, 1985). The trial court did not abuse its discretion by admitting the Spreigl evidence.