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State v. Copeland

February 25, 2003

STATE OF MINNESOTA, RESPONDENT,
v.
JOHN MICHAEL COPELAND, APPELLANT.



Hennepin County District Court File No. 01031910

Considered and decided by Wright, Presiding Judge, Anderson, Judge, and Stoneburner, Judge.

SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

Minn. Stat. § 634.20 (2000) does not permit the introduction of evidence of prior-relationship history between the defendant and any person other than the alleged victim of the charged offense.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Wright, Judge

Affirmed

OPINION

Appellant John Michael Copeland challenges his conviction of and sentencing for first-degree assault, arguing that the district court abused its discretion when it (1) admitted evidence of appellant's past assaultive conduct against his fiancée, who was not the victim of the charged offense, and (2) departed upward by one year based on several aggravating factors. Copeland also raises several arguments in his pro se brief. We affirm.

FACTS

On the evening of April 14, 2001, appellant John Michael Copeland and his fiancée, Kathy Washington, visited Champions Bar in Minneapolis, where they encountered Letitia Bell, an acquaintance of Washington. All three left Champions and went to Bell's residence. Shortly thereafter, Washington and Copeland began to argue. Bell sought assistance from her boyfriend, Randy Allen, who was asleep upstairs. During the subsequent fight between Allen and Copeland, which involved a metal bar, Allen sustained severe injuries to the head and face. Police officers arrived, arrested Copeland, and took a statement from Washington.

Copeland was charged with one count of third-degree assault involving Allen, in violation of Minn. Stat. § 609.223, subd. 1 (2000). Pending trial, the state amended the complaint twice. First the state amended the complaint to charge Copeland with one count of first-degree assault of Allen, in violation of Minn. Stat. § 609.221, subd. 1 (2000). The state later added two counts of second-degree assault of Washington by Copeland, in violation of Minn. Stat. § 609.222, subd. 2 (2000), and one count of attempted murder of Allen by Copeland, in violation of Minn. Stat. § 609.19, subd. 1(1) (2000).

Before Copeland's trial, the state sought admission of Copeland's prior acts of domestic abuse involving Washington, arguing that the evidence was admissible under Minn. Stat. § 634.20 (2000) and caselaw. On the first day of trial, the district court dismissed the two counts of second-degree assault involving Washington. But during the trial, the district court granted the state's motion to admit the evidence of prior domestic abuse involving Washington and Copeland.

Officer James Loveland testified that, on the night of the assault, Washington told him that Copeland had physically assaulted her and Allen with a metal bar after Copeland accused Washington of cheating on him. But at trial Washington testified that Allen was the aggressor, she did not argue with Copeland about his jealousy, and Copeland never hit her. Washington also testified that Copeland had never displayed jealousy regarding Washington and other men. On cross-examination, Washington admitted calling the police on Copeland on several prior occasions, but stated that jealousy was not "one of [their] issues." Over Copeland's objection, Washington's testimony was impeached by that of Officer Jason King. Officer King testified that, in June 2000, he responded to a domestic call made by Washington, which arose from Copeland's jealous accusations regarding Washington and another man.

Also during the trial, a juror notified the district court of his contact with Officer Loveland, one of the state's witnesses. The district court consulted with counsel, and Copeland's attorney decided not to inquire further.

The jury returned guilty verdicts on the first- and third-degree assault charges and a not guilty verdict on the attempted murder charge. On September 20, 2001, Copeland was sentenced to 110 months' imprisonment, a 12-month upward durational departure. The district court based the departure on three factors: (1) invasion of the victim's zone of privacy; (2) particular cruelty; and (3) failure to summon medical assistance. This appeal followed.

ISSUES

I. Did the district court abuse its discretion when it admitted evidence of appellant's prior assaultive conduct involving a person other ...


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