735 N.W.2d 674 (Minn. 2007), A06-1481, State v. Davis

Docket Nº:A06-1481.
Citation:735 N.W.2d 674
Opinion Judge:OPINION PAGE, Justice.
Party Name:STATE of Minnesota, Respondent, v. Detroit DAVIS, Jr., Appellant.
Attorney:John M. Stuart, State Public Defender, Susan J. Andrews, Assistant State Public Defender, Minneapolis, MN, for Appellant., Lori Swanson, Attorney General, St. Paul, MN, Michael O. Freeman, Hennepin County Attorney, Linda K. Jenny, Assistant County Attorney, Minneapolis, MN, for Respondent.
Case Date:July 19, 2007
Court:Supreme Court of Minnesota
 
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Page 674

735 N.W.2d 674 (Minn. 2007)

STATE of Minnesota, Respondent,

v.

Detroit DAVIS, Jr., Appellant.

No. A06-1481.

Supreme Court of Minnesota

July 19, 2007

Office of Appellate Courts, Hennepin County

Page 675

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 676

Syllabus by the Court

1. Appellant's argument, seeking to change the analysis utilized by courts when determining the admissibility of a defendant's previous convictions for purposes of impeachment under Minn. R. Evid. 609, will not be considered for the first time on appeal.

2. Absent evidence in the record giving rise to an inference that a criminal defendant has tailored his or her testimony to fit the evidence, a prosecutor commits misconduct by questioning the defendant in a manner that implies the defendant's testimony is not credible because the defendant was present at trial and had the opportunity to see the evidence before testifying. Under the circumstances of this case, however, the misconduct was not prejudicial.

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3. The prosecutor did not belittle the defendant's self-defense claim by making permissible arguments about the merits of the claim and about what the law requires to establish a self-defense claim.

John M. Stuart, State Public Defender, Susan J. Andrews, Assistant State Public Defender, Minneapolis, MN, for Appellant.

Lori Swanson, Attorney General, St. Paul, MN, Michael O. Freeman, Hennepin County Attorney, Linda K. Jenny, Assistant County Attorney, Minneapolis, MN, for Respondent.

OPINION

PAGE, Justice.

A Hennepin County jury found appellant Detroit Davis, Jr., guilty of first-and second-degree murder in violation of Minn.Stat. §§ 609.185(a)(3) and 609.19, subd. 2(1) (2006), respectively, for the shooting death of Richard Allan; second-degree murder in violation of Minn.Stat. § 609.19, subd. 2(1), for the shooting death of Pablo Morocho; and attempted aggravated robbery in violation of Minn.Stat. § 609.245, subd. 1 (2006).1 The jury returned a not-guilty verdict on the charge of first-degree murder in the death of Morocho.

In this direct appeal, Davis first argues that the district court erred when it admitted evidence of five of his previous felony convictions for impeachment purposes pursuant to Minn. R. Evid. 609. In making this argument, Davis asks that we alter the analysis we set out in State v. Jones, 271 N.W.2d 534 (Minn. 1978), for determining the admissibility of evidence of a defendant's previous convictions and consider only the similarity of the past crime with the charged crime, the importance of the defendant's testimony, and the centrality of the credibility issue. He contends that under this altered analysis, it is clear that the probative value of the evidence of his previous convictions was outweighed by its prejudicial effect. Davis also argues that the prosecutor committed prejudicial misconduct by cross-examining Davis in such a way as to suggest that Davis's testimony was suspect because he had exercised his right to be present at trial. Finally, Davis argues that the prosecutor committed prejudicial misconduct by improperly belittling his self-defense claim. While we conclude that the prosecutor's cross-examination of Davis, which suggested that Davis's presence at trial allowed Davis to tailor his testimony to fit the evidence, constituted misconduct, we also conclude that the misconduct did not affect Davis's substantial rights. We further conclude that the evidence of Davis's previous convictions was properly admitted and that the prosecutor's closing argument did not belittle Davis's self-defense claim. Therefore, we affirm Davis's convictions.

The record indicates that the police, responding to a 911 call on the morning of August 8, 2005, discovered the bodies of Allan and Morocho face down on the floor of Allan's office in south Minneapolis. Blood, some of which was eventually determined to match Davis's DNA profile, had been dripped and smeared in various places throughout the room. A metal pipe was discovered near the body of Morocho. A bag containing about $11, 000 was found near Allan's head.

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An autopsy revealed that Allan had been shot in the upper left chest and that this wound caused his death. Burn marks at the site of the wound indicated that the shot was fired at a distance of a few inches to a few feet. The autopsy also indicated that Allan had suffered a number of injuries consistent with a struggle before his death. Those injuries included a series of scalp lacerations and a skull fracture, all of which appeared to be the result of blunt force trauma, possibly from being struck with the muzzle of a gun. Allan also had a bruise on the right side of his chest, contusions on his arms, and superficial abrasions on his knees.

Morocho's death was caused by a gunshot wound to the right chest. Burn marks around the chest wound indicated that the shot was fired at a distance of a few inches to no more than three feet. A second bullet had passed through Morocho's shoulder.

At trial, Davis testified on his own behalf and asserted a claim of self-defense. In his testimony, Davis admitted that he shot and killed Allan and Morocho during a botched attempt to rob Allan, who was known to keep large sums of cash at his office. An accomplice suggested the robbery and agreed to ensure that the door to Allan's construction business would be unlocked when Davis arrived. Davis planned to enter the building, quickly get Allan to give him money from the business's safe, and exit the building. Another accomplice was to act as a lookout.

Davis testified that on the morning of August 8, 2005, he entered Allan's office carrying a loaded handgun. Davis said that, when Allan saw him enter, Allan jumped up from his desk and attacked him. A struggle ensued, and Davis struck Allan a number of times with the gun. At some point, Davis left Allan and went to the room where the safe, which was open, was located. Davis...

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