State of Minnesota, Respondent, vs. Travis Allen Coyer, Appellant.Annotate this Case
This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2004).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALSA04-271
State of Minnesota,
Travis Allen Coyer,
Filed February 15, 2005
Olmsted County District Court
File No. K1-02-1026
Mike Hatch, Attorney General, 1800 NCL Tower, 445 Minnesota Street, St. Paul, MN 55101-2134; and
Raymond F. Schmitz, Olmsted County Attorney, James P. Spencer, Assistant County Attorney, 151 Southeast Fourth Street, Rochester, MN 55904 (for respondent)
John M. Stuart, State Public Defender, Ann McCaughan, Assistant Public Defender, 2221 University Avenue S.E., Suite 425, Minneapolis, MN 55414 (for appellant)
Considered and decided by Randall, Presiding Judge; Minge, Judge; and Wright, Judge.
U N P U B L I S H E D O P I N I O N
Appellant seeks review of his conviction of manufacturing a controlled substance in the first degree, arguing that the district court abused its discretion by allowing the state to impeach him with his prior convictions of first-degree burglary and receipt of stolen property. Because the district court did not abuse its discretion in admitting appellant's prior convictions for impeachment purposes, we affirm.FACTS
On March 14, 2002, appellant Travis Allen Coyer was arrested on an outstanding child-support warrant. The arrest occurred outside a house that contained items related to the manufacturing of methamphetamine. Police later determined that a methamphetamine laboratory had been operating in the garage. Appellant was searched incident to the arrest and warrant; police found a glass pipe and a vial and coffee filter containing methamphetamine. Appellant was charged with one count of manufacturing methamphetamine, a controlled substance in the first degree, in violation of Minn. Stat. §§ 152.021, subd. 2a, 609.05, subd. 1 (2002); one count of conspiring to manufacture a controlled substance in the first degree, in violation of Minn. Stat. §§ 152.021, subd. 2a, .096 (2002); and one count of possessing a controlled substance in the fifth degree, in violation of Minn. Stat. § 152.025, subd. 2(1) (2002). Appellant pleaded guilty to the fifth-degree possession charge but proceeded to trial on the other two counts.
The state moved to admit evidence of appellant's prior felony convictions from 1995 for burglary in the first degree and receipt of stolen property to impeach appellant in the event that appellant chose to testify. Appellant moved to bar the admission of his prior convictions. The district court ruled pursuant to Minn. R. Evid. 609(a)(1) that appellant could be impeached by evidence of his two prior convictions if he chose to testify. Following a jury trial at which appellant declined to testify, he was convicted on one count of manufacturing methamphetamine in the first degree, in violation of Minn. Stat. §§ 152.021, subd. 2a, 609.05, subd. 1, and one count of conspiring to manufacture methamphetamine in the first degree, in violation of Minn. Stat. §§ 152.021, subd. 2a, .096. He was sentenced to the presumptive 122 months for manufacturing methamphetamine. Appellant challenges the district court's decision to admit the prior convictions for impeachment purposes.D E C I S I O N
A district court's ruling on the impeachment of a witness by prior conviction is reviewed under a clear abuse of discretion standard. State v. Ihnot, 575 N.W.2d 581, 584 (Minn. 1998). "On appeal, the appellant has the burden of establishing that the trial court abused its discretion and that appellant was thereby prejudiced." State v. Amos, 658 N.W.2d 201, 203 (Minn. 2003). Evidence of a prior conviction may be admitted to impeach the defendant's testimony if the offense is less than ten years old, punishable by imprisonment for more than one year, and the district court "determines that the probative value of admitting this evidence outweighs its prejudicial effect." Minn. R. Evid. 609(a)(1), (b). To determine whether the probative value of the evidence outweighs its prejudicial effect, the court should consider the following factors:
(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, 538 (Minn. 1978).
A. Impeachment Value of Prior Crime
The Minnesota Supreme Court has stated that "[i]mpeachment by prior crime aids the jury by allowing it to see the whole person' and thus to judge better the truth of his testimony." State v. Gassler, 505 N.W.2d 62, 67 (Minn. 1993) (quotation omitted). Appellant contends that his prior convictions are cumulative because the jury saw the "whole person" when it heard that appellant was arrested on an outstanding warrant and was in possession of drug paraphernalia. Appellant is factually incorrect because the district court explicitly prohibited any reference to the warrant. Also appellant offers no support for his contention that his possession of drug paraphernalia provides sufficient information for the jury in evaluating the truth of his testimony and that admission of his prior burglary and receipt of stolen property convictions are cumulative. Appellant's prior convictions were for serious crimes and indicate significant disregard of the law, which is of assistance to the jury and has impeachment value.
B. Date of Conviction and Subsequent History
The rule allows for admission of evidence of crimes less than ten years old. Here the prior convictions were seven years old and the district court determined that the seven-year span between the past convictions and the date of the present offense weighed against admitting the convictions for impeachment purposes.
C. Similarity of Past and Charged Crimes
The third factor compares the similarity of the prior conviction with the currently charged crime. The Minnesota Supreme Court has found that "the greater the similarity, the greater the reason for not permitting use of the prior crime to impeach." Jones, 271 N.W.2d at 538. Here, appellant was charged with manufacturing and conspiring to manufacture methamphetamine, which is not similar to his prior burglary and receipt of stolen property convictions, and therefore there is a low risk that the jury would use the prior convictions to determine his guilt in this case.
D. Importance of Appellant's Testimony and Centrality of Credibility
The fourth and fifth factors are the importance of appellant's testimony and his credibility. Appellant argues that the district court should have excluded the convictions because it was more important to hear his version of events and to ensure that he was not discouraged from testifying. See State v. Bettin, 295 N.W.2d 542, 546 (Minn. 1980) (stating court should also consider whether the admission of the evidence would cause defendant not to testify and limit the jury from hearing defendant's version of events). But if a defendant's credibility is the central issue of a case, "a greater case can be made for admitting the impeachment evidence, because the need for the evidence is greater." Ihnot, 575 N.W.2d at 587 (quotation omitted). Here, appellant would have been the sole defense witness offering an explanation for being at the drug house where he was arrested, and thus had he testified, the central issue for the jury would have been his credibility.
The district court was unable to effectively evaluate the importance of appellant's testimony because he failed to present an offer of proof as to what his testimony would have been had he testified, which left the court to state:
It's unclear to the Court the importance of Mr. Coyer's testimony other than it would appear that Mr. Coyer may testify as to the circumstances that brought him to the residence where the arrest took place, but at this point I'm not sure that the Court has enough information to determine whether that factor weighs either in favor of or against exclusion of those convictions.
The supreme court has stated that if the defendant fails to make an offer of proof, the appellate courts, without knowing the substance of defendant's testimony, are left to speculate on the thrust of the testimony. Ihnot, 575 N.W.2d at 587. Presumably appellant would have testified that he was not connected to the manufacturing of methamphetamine inside the garage, which makes his credibility a central issue. In finding that the probative value of admitting the convictions outweighed its prejudicial effect, the district court properly balanced the five factors. See State v. Hochstein, 623 N.W.2d 617, 625 (Minn. App. 2001) ("the trial court is not simply to add up the factors and arrive at a mathematical result . . . [it] may assign different weights to different factors").
Because we find that the court did not abuse its discretion in admitting appellant's prior convictions for impeachment purposes, we need not reach the issue of whether appellant was prejudiced by the wrongful admission of the evidence.