State v. Matthews

Decision Date07 March 2022
Docket NumberA21-0148
PartiesState of Minnesota, Respondent, v. Toman Davin Matthews, Appellant.
CourtMinnesota Court of Appeals

State of Minnesota, Respondent,

Toman Davin Matthews, Appellant.

No. A21-0148

Court of Appeals of Minnesota

March 7, 2022

This opinion is nonprecedential except as provided by Minn. R. Civ. App. P. 136.01, subd. J(c).

Becker County District Court File No. 03-CR-19-2103

Keith Ellison, Attorey General, Edwin W. Stockmeyer, Assistant Attorey General, St. Paul, Minnesota; and Brian W. MacDonald, Becker County Attorey, Detroit Lakes, Minnesota (fr respondent)

Cathryn Middlebrook, Chief Appellate Public Defnder, Chang Y. Lau, Assistant Public Defnder, St. Paul, Minnesota (fr appellant)

Considered and decided by Jesson, Presiding Judge; Johnson, Judge; and Reilly, Judge.



A Becker County jury fund Toman Davin Matthews guilty of two counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct based on evidence that he sexually abused his girlfriend's 11-year-old daughter. We conclude that the district court plainly erred by admitting


inadmissible evidence and that the prosecutor plainly engaged in misconduct. But we conclude that Matthews is not entitled to a new trial based on those plain errors because they did not affect his substantial rights. We also conclude that the district court did not err by admitting evidence concerning Matthews's relationship with other family members or by not ordering the disclosure of the victim's other reports of sexual assault. Lastly, we conclude that Matthews's pro se arguments do not warrant appellate relief Therefore, we affirm.


In late September 2019, 11-year-old A.G. disclosed to a Becker County child-protection employee that Matthews, her mother's boyfriend, had raped her. In October 2019, a licensed social worker, Raelyn Soltis, conducted a forensic interview of A.G., who stated that, on one day in the late summer of 2019, she went upstairs to retrieve her baby sister from her mother's and Matthews's bedroom. She encountered Matthews in the bedroom. Matthews grabbed A.G. by the hair and forced her to put her mouth on his penis. Matthews then attempted to place his mouth on her vagina. The incident ended when Matthews heard one of A.G.'s step-siblings walk up the stairs.

In October 2019, the state charged Matthews with one count of first-degree criminal sexual conduct and one count of attempted first-degree criminal sexual conduct, in violation of Min. Stat. § 609.342, subd. 1(a) (2018). Matthews discharged his public defender and represented himself at trial, with the assistance of advisory counsel.

The case was tried over three days in October 2020. The state called five witnesses, including A.G., A.G.'s mother, and Soltis. A.G. gave testimony that was generally


consistent with her pre-trial statement to Soltis. The state played in open court the video-recording of Soltis's forensic interview of A.G. Matthews testified on his own behalf. He denied sexually assaulting A.G. and stated that she has a history of not telling the truth and manipulating others. Matthews called fur other witnesses: the principal of A.G.' s former school, his mother, and two law-enforcement officers.

The jury fund Matthews guilty of both charges. The district court imposed a sentence of 144 months of imprisomnent on count 1 and a concurrent sentence of 90 months of imprisomnent on count 2. Matthews appeals.


I. Admission of Vouching Testimony

Matthews first argues that the district court erred by admitting testimony in which Soltis, the forensic interviewer, vouched fr A.G.'s credibility.

As a general matter, "one witness cannot vouch fr or against the credibility of another witness." State v. Ferguson, 581 N.W.2d 824, 835 (Minn. 1998). The rationale fr this rule is that "the credibility of a witness is peculiarly within the competence of the jury, whose common experience affords sufficient basis fr the assessment of credibility." State v. Myers, 359 N.W.2d 604, 609-10 (Minn. 1984). Nonetheless, in "unusual cases," such as a "sexual assault case where the alleged victim is a child," an expert witness's testimony concerning the subject of credibility may be admissible. State v. Saldana, 324 N.W.2d 227, 231 (Minn. 1982). But an expert witness may not offer a direct or indirect opinion on the credibility of a particular child. State v. Wembley, 712 N.W.2d 783, 791-92 (Minn.App. 2006), aff'd on other grounds, 728 N.W.2d 243 (Minn. 2007).


In this case, Matthews challenges three parts of Soltis's testimony. Matthews did not object at trial to any of the three statements that he challenges on appeal. Accordingly, we apply the plain-error test. Minn. R. Crim. P. 31.02; State v. Griller, 583 N.W.2d 736, 740 (Minn. 1998). Under the plain-error test, we will reverse a conviction only if the appellant shows that (1) the district court committed an error, (2) the error was plain, and (3) the plain error affected the appellant's substantial rights. See Griller, 583 N.W.2d at 740. "An error is plain if it was clear or obvious," such as if "the error contravenes case law, a rule, or a standard of conduct." State v. Ramey, 721 N.W.2d 294, 302 (Minn. 2006) (quotation omitted). An error affects the substantial rights of an appellant if it was "prejudicial and affected the outcome of the case." Griller, 583 N.W.2d at 741. If an appellant establishes the first three requirements, "we will correct the error only if the error seriously affects the fairness, integrity, or the public reputation of judicial proceedings." State v. Matthews, 800 N.W.2d 629, 634 (Minn. 2011).

A. "Credible and Reliable"

Matthews first contends that the district court plainly erred by admitting Soltis's testimony that she fund A.G.'s disclosures to be "credible and reliable." The challenged testimony was given when the prosecutor asked Soltis, "was there anything that you observed during this interview that gave you indications that [A.G.]'s disclosures were not reliable?" Soltis answered, "No, I fund her statements to be credible and reliable."

The state agrees that "a forensic interviewer is usually prohibited from directly opining that a complainant's disclosure is credible." But the state contends that, in this case, the challenged testimony is admissible on the ground that Matthews had "opened the


door" to it by attempting to show that A.G. 's mother, L.H., did not believe A.G. 's allegations. In general, a part "opens the door" to otherwise inadmissible evidence by introducing evidence that "creates in the opponent a right to respond with material that would otherwise have been inadmissible." State v. Valtierra, 718 N.W.2d 425, 436 (Minn. 2006) (quotation omitted). The purpose of the doctrine is to ensure that one party does not gain an unfair advantage by introducing testimony on a particular subject about which the other party may not introduce evidence to refute or respond to the first party's testimony. Id. Specifically, the supreme court has held that an expert witness, such as a forensic interviewer, may testify about an alleged child victim's credibility if the defendant has sought to prove that the child's mother does not believe the child's allegation. See Myers, 359 N.W.2d at 607-12; Adesii v. State, 384 N.W.2d 908, 911-12 (Minn.App. 1986), rev. denied (Minn. June 13, 1986).

In this case, Matthews earlier had cross-examined L.H. in a way that suggested that she did not believe A.G.'s allegations. Matthews did so by asking whether she was pressured into telling police interviewers that she believed A.G. In doing so, Matthews "opened the door" to responsive vouching testimony from Soltis. See Myers, 359 N.W.2d at 607-12; Adesiji, 384 N.W.2d at 911-12. Thus, Soltis's testimony that A.G.'s accusations against Matthews were "credible and reliable" was not plain error.

B. False Allegations

Matthews also contends that the district court plainly erred by admitting Soltis's testimony that "false [ sexual abuse] allegations occur less than five percent of the time, so ... they very rarely occur." The state concedes that this testimony is plainly inadmissible.


C. Reliability Assessment

Matthews further contends that the district court plainly erred by admitting Soltis's testimony that A.G.'s behavior during her forensic interview was consistent with commonly used criteria fr determining reliability.

A forensic interviewer may testify generally about the protocol fr interviewing alleged child sexual-abuse victims, including the existence of certain factors or criteria that may indicate that the child is credible. Myers, 359 N.W.2d at 610; State v. Morales-Mulato, 744 N.W.2d 679, 689 (Minn.App. 2008), rev. denied (Minn. Apr. 29, 2008). The state contends that the district court did not plainly err on the ground that Soltis's testimony is "arguably admissible" under Myers. But a forensic interviewer may not testify that, in a particular interview, the child's behavior conformed to those credibility factors. See Wembley, 712 N.W.2d at 791-92; Morales-Mulato, 744 N.W.2d at 690. In Wembley, a forensic interviewer testified regarding fur criteria that she had used to evaluate the credibility of a child complainant and, in addition, testified that the behavior of a 12-year-old child satisfied those criteria. 712 N.W.2d at 790-92. This court concluded that the forensic interviewer's testimony "violated the prohibition against expert opinion as to a witness's credibility." Id. at 792.

In this case, Soltis testified about the factors she looks fr when assessing the reliability of a child who has reported a sexual assault. The state then played fr the jury the video-recording of A.G.'s forensic interview. Soltis then testified in detail that A.G.'s behavior during the interview was consistent with the reliability factors that she had identified. Such testimony is plainly inadmissible under Wembley.


D. Substantial Rights

To be entitled to a new trial, Matthews must show that the district court...

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