State of Minnesota, Respondent, vs. Andre A. Embry, aka Alfred Hudson, Appellant.
This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2000).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
State of Minnesota,
Andre A. Embry, aka Alfred Hudson,
Filed May 15, 2001
Ramsey County District Court
File No. K000855
Mike Hatch, Attorney General, 525 Park Street, Suite 500, St. Paul, MN 55103; and
Susan Gaertner, Ramsey County Attorney, Jeanne L. Schleh, Assistant County Attorney, 50 West Kellogg Boulevard., Suite 315, St. Paul, MN 55102-1657 (for respondent)
John M. Stuart, Minnesota State Public Defender, Mark F. Anderson, Assistant State Public Defender, 2829 University Avenue Southeast, Suite 600, Minneapolis, MN 55414 (for appellant)
Considered and decided by Shumaker, Presiding Judge, Randall, Judge, and Peterson, Judge.
U N P U B L I S H E D O P I N I O N
R. A. RANDALL, Judge
In this appeal from a conviction of second-degree assault, appellant argues that the district court erred in allowing evidence of a domestic confrontation between himself and his girlfriend. The confrontation prompted a 911 call, and the facts resulting in the charge of assault followed when the police responded. Appellant was charged with assaulting an officer with a knife. Appellant also argues that this court should review the internal-affairs files of one of the officers involved. The district court reviewed the confidential files in camera and determined they did not contain discoverable information that would be relevant to appellant's theory of the case. We affirm.
At approximately 1:00 a.m. on March 15, 2000, St. Paul police officers David Langfellow and James LaBarre responded to a 911 hang-up call from a St. Paul apartment. Arriving simultaneously in separate squad cars, LaBarre reached the street-level door to the upper apartments first. When the door opened, LaBarre saw appellant Andre A. Embry standing halfway behind the door and could not see Embry's right side. When asked what was going on, Embry responded, "Nothing, officer, just a little domesticating between me and my woman."
LaBarre noticed a woman standing on the stairway, later identified as Amenetari Stampley, Embry's girlfriend and the mother of his children, mouthing a warning that Embry had a knife. LaBarre ordered Embry to step away from the door, but he did not respond. LaBarre then pushed the door open and saw Embry with a lock-blade knife in an open position in his right hand coming towards LaBarre's midsection in a sweeping or stabbing motion. LaBarre grabbed Embry's throat with his left hand and caught Embry's wrist with his right hand. Fearing he would be stabbed, LaBarre yelled, "Knife!," and Langfellow grabbed Embry's right hand along with LaBarre. They both hit Embry's hand against the wall to release the knife, which fell to the ground. Stampley grabbed the knife and retreated up the stairs. Embry did not stop struggling with the officers until they used mace.
After putting Embry in the squad car, LaBarre went up to the apartment to check on Stampley. There she turned the knife over to him. LaBarre testified that Stampley told him she grabbed the knife because she could see Embry reaching for it and was afraid he would assault the officers. Stampley later denied telling LaBarre that she was afraid Embry would stab them.
At trial, Stampley testified that she was sleeping when Embry arrived home around 1:00 a.m. He woke her and started asking her about a bowl. An argument ensued. Stampley asked Embry if he had been drinking, and he did not answer, so she asked him to leave the apartment. She told him to give her the car keys because she did not want him driving. He continued arguing with her and grabbed her by the shoulders when she turned to walk away from him. Over Embry's objection at trial regarding what happened next, Stampley stated that as she twisted away and said, "Get your hands off of me," she could feel him pushing against her back. They then fell to the floor. She also testified that when one of the officers asked her what happened to her lip, she said that she may have gotten hit, but it probably was not intentional.
Stampley testified that she again told Embry to leave and then he made a phone call, which she thought was about getting a ride. She told him she would drive him and then he hung up. The 911 operator called back, at which time she realized that he had called 911. She again asked for the keys, and when he emptied his pocket for the keys, there was also a lock-back knife. She asked for the knife, telling him it would be dangerous for him to have a knife when the police arrived because they might perceive it as a threat, and he could get shot. Embry ignored her and went downstairs to wait for the police. She followed him and waited on a landing seven steps above him.
D E C I S I O N
I. Admitting Evidence of Immediate Prior Activity
Embry argues that any evidence regarding the physical struggle before the police arrived between Stampley and Embry, which resulted in injury to Stampley, was of minimal, if any, relevance to the issue of whether Embry attempted to stab LaBarre. Embry states that the prejudicial effect of such evidence overwhelmingly outweighed any probative value, thereby denying Embry his right to a fair trial. He also argues that this is Spreigl evidence and because he was not given notice that the state intended to elicit evidence of a crime beyond the assault, admission of the evidence is improper.
Appellate courts largely defer to the district court's evidentiary rulings, which will not be reversed absent a clear abuse of discretion. State v. Kelly, 435 N.W.2d 807, 813 (Minn. 1989). Any error is prejudicial if "there is a reasonable possibility that the wrongfully admitted evidence significantly affected the verdict." State v. Post, 512 N.W.2d 99, 102 n.2 (Minn. 1994).
In Minnesota, evidence of prior crimes or bad acts is termed Spreigl evidence. State v. Spreigl, 272 Minn. 488, 497, 139 N.W.2d 167 (Minn. 1965); State v. Billstrom, 276 Minn. 174, 177, 149 N.W.2d 281, 183 (Minn. 1967); State v. Kennedy, 585 N.W.2d 385, 389 (Minn. 1998). Regarding the Spreigl evidence notice requirement, "[o]ffenses which are part of the immediate episode for which defendant is being tried" generally do not require a notice to defendant. Spreigl, 272 Minn. at 497, 139 N.W.2d at 173.
The police were dispatched to the apartment because of a 911 call. It is the domestic argument that gave rise to the 911 call. The introduction of evidence of what took place in the apartment that prompted the 911 call would be admissible by either party. It is part of the immediate episode and gave the jury a logical reason why the police were at the apartment. This close-in-time background evidence gave the jury a picture of what Embry and Stampley were doing, including their states of mind and their respective possible motives and intent for their actions in the apartment and those on the stairway that gave rise to the charged assault. The actions between Embry and Stampley fall within the scope of the immediate episode and do not require Spreigl notice. See State v. Leecy, 294 N.W.2d 280, 282 (Minn. 1980) (stating Spreigl notice not required because incident was part of immediate episode out of which charges arose). We need not address the issue of a lack of Spreigl notice any further.
Embry also raises the issue that regardless of whether the jury was satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt that Embry used the knife in an assaultive manner towards LaBarre, the elicited evidence was inflammatory. He asserts that the jury could have thought that he should be punished in any event for causing injury to the mother of his four children. Embry supports this point by citing State v. Silvers, 230 Minn. 12, 40 N.W.2d 630 (Minn. 1950). The court in Silvers found that asking the wife at trial whether the defendant had struck her when the defendant was charged with assault towards another person was calculated to arouse prejudice in the minds of the jury against the defendant. Id. at 22, 40 N.W.2d at 635. Silvers is distinguishable. Stampley's testimony about the incidents in the apartment, which led Embry to call 911 was simply part of the facts that led to the assault.
II. Sealed Internal-Affairs Records
Embry asks this court, pursuant to State v. Paradee, 403 N.W.2d 640 (Minn. 1987), to independently review police internal-affairs documents of prior investigations of complaints against LaBarre to determine whether the district court erred in finding that the files were irrelevant and immaterial to the case against Embry. Embry asserts that the documents may provide relevant or exculpatory evidence that should have been disclosed to defense counsel at trial.
Under Paradee, if defense counsel has reason to believe that potentially exculpatory or relevant evidence is contained in confidential files, the district court should obtain the requested documents and conduct an in camera review of the files to determine whether they are material and relevant for the defense of the charge. See Paradee, 403 N.W.2d at 642 (having court do in camera review of confidential files rather than allowing defense easy access to information since courts are qualified in determining relevancy and what can assist defense). Such determination is subject to judicial review. Id.
The in camera approach strikes a fairer balance between the interest of the privilege holder in having his confidences kept and the interest of the criminal defendant in obtaining all relevant evidence * * * .
The district court did exactly what Embry's counsel requested. The court examined the confidential internal-affairs record in chambers and then ruled that nothing contained therein was discoverable by defense counsel, meaning the court found nothing in the internal affairs record that would lend itself to any defense theory propounded by Embry. We have examined the contents of the internal-affairs records and affirm the district court's decision that no information in those records was relevant as part of Embry's case.