of Appeals Office of Appellate Courts
Ellison, Attorney General, Saint Paul, Minnesota; and Pete
Orput, Washington County Attorney, Nicholas A. Hydukovich,
Assistant Washington County Attorney, Stillwater, Minnesota,
Cathryn Middlebrook, Chief Appellate Public Defender, Saint
Paul, Minnesota; and Melissa Sheridan, Assistant State Public
Defender, Eagan, Minnesota, for respondent.
Because the law at the time of respondent's appeal did
not clearly require that the district court sua sponte
instruct the jurors on the proper use of relationship
evidence admitted under Minn. Stat. § 634.20 (1996), the
district court did not commit an error that was plain in
failing to give a limiting instruction.
2. If a
district court admits relationship evidence under Minn. Stat.
§ 634.20 (2018), over a defendant's objection that
the evidence is not admissible under that statute, the court
must sua sponte instruct the jurors on the proper use of such
evidence, unless the defendant objects to such action by the
GILDEA, Chief Justice.
question presented in this case is whether the district court
committed reversible error when the court did not, sua
sponte, give a limiting instruction regarding the proper use
of relationship evidence admitted under Minn. Stat. §
634.20 (1996). The State charged respondent Danny Lee
Zinski with first-degree burglary and fourth-degree criminal
sexual conduct. At trial, the district court admitted 634.20
evidence without sua sponte instructing the jurors
on the proper use of that evidence. On appeal, Zinski argued
that the district court committed an error that was plain
when the court failed to sua sponte instruct the jurors on
the proper use of 634.20 evidence. The court of appeals
agreed with Zinski and held that the district court's
failure to sua sponte instruct the jurors on the proper use
of 634.20 evidence was an error that was plain. Although we
announce a new rule that clarifies the law, the relevant law
was unsettled at the time of appellate review, and,
therefore, the court of appeals erred when the court
concluded that Zinski had established an error that was
plain. Accordingly, we reverse.
State charged Zinski with burglary in the first degree under
Minn. Stat. § 609.582, subd. 1(c) (1996), and criminal
sexual conduct in the fourth degree under Minn. Stat. §
609.345, subd. 1(c) (2018), in connection with conduct
involving D.S. Zinski and D.S. had been in a romantic
relationship, but D.S. had ended the relationship just before
the incident that gave rise to the charges.
pleaded not guilty, and the matter proceeded to
trial. At trial, the district court admitted
634.20 evidence. Specifically, D.S. testified that Zinski
had repeatedly verbally and physically abused her during
their relationship. Two neighbors and friends of D.S.
testified that they had seen Zinski verbally abuse D.S. And
L.S., who is D.S.'s son, testified that Zinski verbally
and physically abused D.S.
did not ask for, and the district court did not give, a
limiting instruction on the proper use of 634.20 evidence,
either when the evidence was introduced or in the final jury
instructions. The jury found Zinski guilty on both counts.
appeal, Zinski argued that the district court committed an
error that was plain when it failed to sua sponte instruct
the jurors on the proper use of 634.20 evidence. In support
of his argument, Zinski cited State v. Word, 755
N.W.2d 776, 785 (Minn.App. 2008), for the proposition that
the failure to sua sponte instruct the jurors on the proper
use of 634.20 evidence is an error that is plain. While
Zinski's appeal was still pending in the court of
appeals, the court of appeals issued its opinion in State
v. Melanson, 906 N.W.2d 561 (Minn.App. 2018). In
Melanson, the court of appeals held that "the
district court did not plainly err in failing to provide a
limiting instruction sua sponte to the jury regarding the
admission of [634.20] evidence." Id. at 568.
the apparent conflict between Word and
Melanson, the court of appeals held that the
district court's failure to sua sponte instruct the
jurors on the proper use of 634.20 evidence in Zinski's
case was a plain error that entitled him to a new trial. We
granted the State's petition for review.
Zinski did not ask the district court to instruct the jurors
on the proper use of the 634.20 evidence and did not object
to the court's final jury instructions, he has forfeited
appellate review of the jury-instruction issue. See State
v. Goodloe, 718 N.W.2d 413, 422 (Minn. 2006)
("Failure to request specific jury instructions or to
object to instructions given generally results in forfeiture
of the issue on appeal."). But, under the plain-error
doctrine, an appellate court has the discretion to consider a
forfeited issue if the defendant establishes (1) an error,
(2) that was plain, and (3) that affected his substantial
rights. Id.; see State v.
Matthews, 779 N.W.2d 543, 548 (Minn. 2010). Under our
precedent, "[a]n error is plain if it 'contravenes
case law, a rule, or a standard of conduct.'"
State v. Hayes, 831 N.W.2d 546, 555 (Minn. 2013)
(quoting State v. Ramey, 721 N.W.2d 294, 302 (Minn.
appeal, the State asks us to reverse the court of
appeals' conclusion that the district court's plain
error entitles Zinski to a new trial. According to the State,
relevant precedent was unclear at the time of Zinski's
appeal on whether a limiting instruction was required
concerning 634.20 evidence, and so the district court's
failure to give the instruction cannot have been an error
that was plain. For his part, Zinski relies on ...