Geiger v. State

Decision Date22 July 1996
Docket NumberNo. 24163,24163
Citation920 P.2d 993,112 Nev. 938
PartiesMichael Joseph GEIGER, Appellant, v. The STATE of Nevada, Respondent.
CourtNevada Supreme Court

Michael R. Specchio, Public Defender and Jane McKenna, Deputy Public Defender, Washoe County, for Appellant.

Frankie Sue Del Papa, Attorney General, Carson City; Richard A. Gammick, District Attorney and Gary H. Hatlestad, Deputy District Attorney, Washoe County, for Respondent.

OPINION

STEFFEN, Chief Justice:

On the evening of September 15, 1991, Valerie Ellis and her family returned to their home in Reno, Nevada. Before Ellis retired to bed, she closed the windows and doors in her house. In the morning, Ellis discovered an open window in the family room. Her purse and her husband's wallet were located on the ground beneath the window. Although the amount of money taken was unclear, between one hundred and fifty and three hundred dollars were missing from the purse and wallet. The previous night, Ellis placed these items on the kitchen counter.

Ellis also discovered that her locked file box had been removed from the house and was located on the ground. The lid had been pried off but nothing was missing from the file box. The police discovered a screen leaning against the house that had been pried off the family room window. After examining the area, the police determined that someone had broken into Ellis' house.

The police obtained a partial thumbprint from the screen and three fingerprints from the file box. An experienced latent-fingerprint examiner determined that the fingerprint obtained from the screen belonged to Michael Joseph Geiger. The state charged Geiger with one count of burglary. The information also charged Geiger with being a habitual criminal and listed Geiger's eight prior convictions.

At the jury trial, the district court clerk read a portion of the charge from the information in the presence of the jury as follows:

Michael Joseph Geiger, the defendant above named, has committed the crime of: Count I. BURGLARY, a violation of NRS 205.060, a felony, in the manner following: That the said defendant on or between the 15th day of September A.D. 1991, and the 16th day of September A.D. 1991, or thereabout, and before the filing of this Information, at and within the County of Washoe, State of Nevada, did willfully and unlawfully enter a certain house located at 1675 Majestic, Reno, Washoe County, Nevada, and being the house of VALERIE ELLIS with the intent then and there to commit larceny therein, after having been previously convicted of Burglary in 1989. 1

The district court then held a bench conference. After the state presented its opening statement, the district court judge gave the following admonition to the jury:

I want to correct a possible apprehension that you might have received when my clerk read the Information to you.

As she indicated to you, this thing is called an Amended Second Information. In other words, it's very recently been changed. And there was a mistake made by the typist, [who] inserted some language that didn't belong there.

She read something about "after having been previously convicted" of something. There is no previous conviction. He is not charged with any prior offenses of any kind. The State is not obligated to prove that. It is a matter which is not before you.

And all of you agreed as we went through the process of selecting you, that you would follow my instructions, and I ask you and I order you and I expect from you to follow my instructions now to disregard any of that mistakenly-written language.

The district court judge then read to the jury the information without the language "after having been previously convicted of Burglary in 1989." The district court acknowledged Geiger's objection for the record and subsequently denied Geiger's motion for a mistrial. The district court concluded that its admonition was sufficient to eliminate any prejudice to Geiger, provided that no further mention was made of Geiger's prior conviction.

At trial, the evidence presented by the state linking Geiger to the crime was Geiger's fingerprint found on the pried-off window frame and the testimony of Ellis that she did not know or recognize Geiger and that Geiger had never been to her home for any purpose. The jury returned a verdict of guilty on the charge of burglary. The district court adjudicated Geiger to be a habitual criminal and sentenced him to serve fourteen years in the Nevada State Prison. This appeal followed.

Geiger first contends that the evidence presented at trial was insufficient to support the jury's finding of guilt on the burglary charge. 2 Geiger's contention lacks merit. We have held that "[w]hen fingerprints of the defendant are found where the crime was committed, and circumstances rule out the possibility that they might have been imprinted at a different time than when the crime occurred, a conviction is warranted." Carr v. State, 96 Nev. 936, 939, 620 P.2d 869, 871 (1980) (citing Hervey v. People, 178 Colo. 38, 495 P.2d 204 (1972)). Corroborating evidence is not required. Id.

Geiger's fingerprint was located at the point of entry. The police lifted Geiger's fingerprint from a window screen pried off of a window which had been opened. Further, Ellis testified that she did not know or recognize Geiger and that he had never been to her home for any purpose. We conclude that this was sufficient evidence to establish guilt beyond a reasonable doubt as determined by a rational trier of fact. See Wilkins v. State, 96 Nev. 367, 609 P.2d 309 (1980). Accordingly, we affirm the judgment of conviction.

Geiger next contends that the district court clerk's statement to the jury alluding to Geiger's prior conviction was contrary to the mandate of NRS 207.010(5) 3. Further, Geiger contends that the district court's limiting instruction was insufficient to eliminate the prejudice to Geiger and the district court erred in denying Geiger's motion for a mistrial. In response, the state contends that the district court did not err in denying Geiger's motion for a mistrial. Further, even if the district court erred, the state contends that the reference to Geiger's prior conviction was harmless.

The district court clerk's statement in the presence of the jury regarding Geiger's prior conviction was contrary to the mandate ofNRS 207.010(5). However, it is within the sound discretion of the trial court to determine whether a mistrial is warranted. Owens v. State, 96 Nev. 880, 620 P.2d 1236 (1980); Sparks v. State, 96 Nev. 26, 604 P.2d 802 (1980). Absent a clear showing of abuse of discretion, the trial court's determination will not be disturbed on appeal. Id. Accordingly, Geiger must demonstrate that the district court abused its discretion in denying Geiger's motion for a mistrial. In doing so, Geiger must prove that the inadvertent reference to his prior conviction "was so prejudicial as to be unsusceptible to neutralizing by an admonition to the jury." Allen v. State, 99 Nev. 485, 490, 665 P.2d 238, 241 (1983).

To determine whether an inadvertent reference to a prior criminal activity is so prejudicial that it cannot be cured by an admonition to the jury, the following four factors may be considered: (1) whether the remark was solicited by the prosecution; (2) whether the district court immediately admonished the jury; (3) whether the statement was clearly and enduringly prejudicial; and (4) whether the evidence of guilt was convincing. Allen v. State, 99 Nev. 485, 490-91, 665 P.2d 238, 241-42 (1983).

In applying the factors in Allen, we conclude that the inadvertent reference to Geiger's prior conviction was not so prejudicial that it could not be neutralized by the admonition to the jury. First, the reference to Geiger's prior conviction was inadvertently made by the district court clerk, and therefore, was not solicited by the prosecution. Second, the district court admonished the jury almost immediately after the reference was made and prior to the presentation of evidence. The admonition was very thorough because the district court not only instructed the jury to disregard the language regarding the prior conviction, but also stated that the language was a mistake and that there was no prior conviction. Third, the reference was not clearly and enduringly prejudicial. The reference constituted only one brief reference during the two-day trial and it was followed by a thorough admonition to the jury. Finally, the evidence of guilt was convincing. As we have concluded, there was sufficient evidence to support the conviction. Accordingly, we conclude that the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying Geiger's motion for a mistrial. 4 The judgment of conviction is affirmed.

YOUNG and SPRINGER, JJ., concur.

SHEARING, J., dissents in part.

ROSE, J., dissents.

SHEARING, Justice, dissenting in part and concurring in part:

I agree with the dissent that the conviction should be reversed on the basis of the State's reference to Geiger's prior conviction; however, I agree with the majority that there was sufficient evidence to sustain the conviction.

ROSE, Justice, dissenting:

For the reasons discussed below, I would reverse the judgment of conviction based on insufficiency of the evidence to support the jury verdict, and I would reverse the district court's denial of Geiger's motion for a mistrial.

First, I disagree with the majority's reaffirmation of the standard for fingerprint-only cases set forth in Carr v. State, 96 Nev. 936, 620 P.2d 869 (1980). In that case, this court held that "[w]hen fingerprints of the defendant are found where the crime was committed, and circumstances rule out the possibility that they might have been imprinted at a different time than when the crime occurred, a conviction is warranted." Carr v. State, 96 Nev. 936, 939, 620 P.2d 869, 871 (1980) (citing Hervey v. People, 178 Colo. 38, 495 P.2d 204 (1972)). The language in Carr is...

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    ...must be "'so prejudicial as to be unsusceptible to neutralizing by an admonition to the jury'") (quoting Geiger v. State, 112 Nev. 938, 942, 920 P.2d 993, 995 (1996)); Glover v. Eighth Judicial District Court, 125 Nev. 691, 710, 220 P.3d 684, 697 (2009) (district court must consider, among ......
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