Stearns County District Court File No. 73-CR-11-6658
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ross, Judge
This opinion will be unpublished and may not be cited except as provided by Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2012).
Dissenting, Cleary, Judge
Considered and decided by Cleary, Presiding Judge; Ross, Judge; and Larkin, Judge.
A jury found Bounkieng Sinthavong guilty of domestic assault and terroristic threats after hearing evidence that Sinthavong had choked P.F. with an extension cord during an argument in her home. Sinthavong appeals from his conviction, arguing that the district court improperly admitted hearsay evidence, opinion evidence, and excessive relationship evidence, and that the cumulative effect of the improperly admitted evidence denied him the right to a fair trial. Because we hold that the district court did not abuse its discretion by admitting the relationship evidence, and any errors in admitting hearsay or opinion evidence did not affect Sinthavong's substantial rights, we affirm.
Bounkieng Sinthavong and P.F., who have two children together, had a turbulent three-year romantic relationship that P.F. ended in July 2011 after Sinthavong struck her in the face and later allegedly choked her with an electrical extension cord. That later incident led to Sinthavong's arrest and the criminal convictions that Sinthavong challenges in this appeal.
According to P.F.'s trial testimony, Sinthavong first struck her on July 6, motivating her to move into a mobile home near St. Cloud with the children and not tell Sinthavong where she had moved. Sinthavong found her three weeks later and showed up at the home unannounced. Sinthavong made jealous accusations and refused to leave despite P.F.'s urging. He stayed all night, and, the next morning, P.F. borrowed a neighbor's telephone and called the trailer park manager. Sinthavong eventually left, but he returned 90 minutes later, apologetic.
Two days later Sinthavong returned to P.F.'s home. He accused her of having men over to the home, and, once again, he initially refused to leave despite P.F.'s demand that he do so. He eventually left, only to return again and continue accusing P.F. of cheating. P.F. testified that Sinthavong wrapped an extension cord around P.F.'s neck and lifted her off the floor by the cord. P.F. could not breathe and thought she was going to die. While Sinthavong strangled P.F., he told her that he loved her and that he didn't understand why she didn't feel the same toward him. Sinthavong loosened the cord. P.F. screamed for help when she saw someone just outside the home. Sinthavong covered her mouth. He told P.F. that he was going to bury her so deeply that she would never be found. P.F. tried to leave, but Sinthavong stopped her. He stayed the night, sleeping in front of the door to prevent her from leaving.
P.F. slipped out in the morning and called the police from her neighbor's home. She reported that an unwanted person was in her home. Sinthavong left before police arrived. One of the deputies asked P.F. if anything had happened beyond Sinthavong being at the home and refusing to leave. P.F. told the deputy that she and Sinthavong had argued and that she was afraid that he would return, but she said that nothing physical had happened. The next day, P.F. went to a domestic-abuse shelter seeking help to obtain an order for protection. She told an employee at the shelter that Sinthavong had choked her, and the employee called the sheriff's department. One of the deputies who had responded to P.F.'s call went to the shelter and took a recorded statement from P.F.
The state charged Sinthavong with two counts of felony domestic assault, one count of terroristic threats, and one count of domestic assault by strangulation. See Minn. Stat. § 609.2242, subd. 4 (2010); Minn. Stat. § 609.713, subd. 1 (2010); Minn. Stat. § 609.2247, subd. 2 (2010). Before trial, the state moved to introduce evidence of incidents in Sinthavong's relationship with P.F., under Minnesota Statutes section 634.20 (2010). Sinthavong objected, arguing that the evidence was irrelevant and unfairly prejudicial. The court overruled the objection, determining that the evidence was "likely to have a high probative value, since it would help to establish the relationship between [P.F.] and [Sinthavong] and can place the incident in issue in context for the jury." The district court also found that the probative value of the evidence was "not substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice, which is ...