State v. Steffes

Decision Date18 January 1995
Docket NumberNo. 94-099,94-099
Citation269 Mont. 214,887 P.2d 1196
PartiesSTATE of Montana, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. Thomas J. STEFFES, Defendant and Appellant.
CourtMontana Supreme Court

Charles F. Moses, Moses Law Firm, Billings, for appellant.

Joseph P. Mazurek, Atty. Gen., Patricia Jordan, Asst. Atty. Gen., Helena, Dennis Paxinos, Yellowstone County Atty., Dale R. Mrkich and Marsha Sept, Deputy Yellowstone County Attys., Billings, for respondent.

NELSON, Justice.

Defendant/appellant Thomas J. Steffes (Steffes) was found guilty of three counts of deviate sexual conduct following a jury trial in the District Court for the Thirteenth Judicial District, Yellowstone County. Steffes appeals the District Court's denial of his motion for a new trial, and its judgment and commitment sentencing Steffes to a term of ten years' imprisonment on each count, to be served concurrently. We affirm.

Steffes raises nine issues on appeal.

1. Whether the District Court erred in denying the motion to dismiss based on insufficiency of the amended information?

2. Whether the District Court erred in admitting other acts evidence?

3. Whether the District Court erred in limiting the expert testimony of a psychologist?

4. Whether the District Court erred in denying the motion for acquittal on the ground of variance at the close of the State's case?

5. Whether the District Court erred in excluding evidence of the alleged prior sexual abuse of a victim?

6. Whether the District Court erred in refusing Steffes' renewed request for production of evidence regarding the alleged prior sexual abuse of the victim?

7. Whether the District Court erred in refusing a lesser included offense instruction?

8. Whether the District Court erred in instructing the jury?

9. Whether the District Court erred in not suppressing the search warrant?

Steffes was charged by an amended information with two counts of deviate sexual conduct for knowingly causing J.W., who was thirteen years old at the time of trial, to engage in deviate sexual relations without his consent, and one count of deviate sexual conduct for knowingly causing R.T., who was ten years old at the time of trial, to engage in sexual conduct without his consent in violation of § 45-5-505, MCA.

J.W. testified concerning the events which resulted in the first two charges against Steffes. Regarding the first incident, J.W. testified that he was spending the night with Steffes' son, M.S., in September 1990. The two boys were lying awake in the T.V. room when Steffes came in and asked J.W. to come upstairs. J.W. complied and followed Steffes into his bedroom. Steffes then asked J.W. if he knew what a "hard-on" was and asked J.W. to pull his pants down. J.W. initially said no, but did so after Steffes repeated his request. Steffes then asked J.W. to lay down on the bed and began to stimulate J.W.'s penis. Steffes asked J.W. if it felt good. J.W. asked Steffes if he could leave, and Steffes told him not to tell anyone about the incident. Steffes then went into the bathroom, and J.W. went back downstairs to the T.V. room.

J.W. testified that he did not tell M.S. or anyone else what had happened at that time because he knew what had happened was wrong, and that he was afraid to tell anyone what had happened because he did not know what Steffes would do to him if he did.

With regard to Count II, J.W. testified that on Father's Day, June 16, 1991, he went to the Steffes' home where J.W., M.S., Steffes and his daughter had a water balloon fight. After the fight, Steffes watched while J.W. and M.S. dried off and changed into dry clothes. The two boys then went to the basement to watch a movie. Later in the afternoon, J.W. went to get his clothes off the line, and he encountered Steffes in the hallway. Steffes asked J.W. to come into his bedroom, J.W. replied that he was going to the bathroom to change his clothes, and Steffes told him he could use his bathroom. While J.W. was changing his clothes, Steffes came into the bathroom and asked J.W. to come into his room.

Steffes then asked J.W. to come over to his dresser, where he took a red condom out of one of the top drawers, and told J.W. what it was. Steffes then pulled out a little yellow bottle of Rush, a sexual stimulant, put it up to J.W.'s nose, and asked him to smell it. Steffes told J.W. the Rush would give him an erection, and asked J.W. if he had one. Steffes pulled out J.W.'s shorts and said that he did. Steffes then laid on the bed and asked J.W. to come over. J.W. went over to the bed, and Steffes took his own penis out and forced J.W. to feel it. J.W. took his hand away, and left the room.

That night J.W. could not sleep as a result of what had happened that day. He went to his parents' room and told his dad that Steffes had "touched me in a way I didn't think dads did ... [and] I didn't like it." J.W.'s mother who had overheard the conversation immediately called 911, and an officer came to the house and took a statement from J.W. Two days later, on June 18, 1991, Detective Richardson, conducted a taped interview of J.W.

R.T. testified at trial concerning the incident he was involved in which resulted in the third charge against Steffes. R.T. explained that in May or June of 1991, he was at Steffes' house playing with M.S. R.T. and M.S. were wrestling while Steffes was watching T.V. Steffes asked R.T. to come over to the couch where he was sitting, and then stuck his hands down R.T.'s pants and touched his penis.

R.T. also testified that one night while spending the night at the Steffes' home, he and M.S. took a shower together, and Steffes came in with a video camera. Steffes told the boys the camera was off, but R.T. saw a red light flashing on the camera, so he thought Steffes was videotaping them.

Detective Richardson conducted the investigation of J.W.'s complaint against Steffes. After taking J.W.'s statement, he obtained a search warrant for the Steffes' residence to look for the condom and the bottle of Rush that J.W. had described in his statement. Upon executing the search warrant, Detective Richardson found five colored condoms and four bottles of Rush in the left-hand side drawer of Steffes' dresser.

During the course of the investigation Detective Richardson also contacted R.T.'s parents and asked them if anything unusual had happened to R.T. while he was at the Steffes' home. R.T.'s father then asked R.T. if anything unusual had happened and R.T. initially said no. The next evening R.T. remembered the offense and told his parents about Steffes touching him and videotaping him. R.T. was then interviewed by Detective Richardson.

During trial, the State introduced testimony from David Thorsby, a resident of South Dakota. Thorsby testified that in the fall of 1986, when he was eleven years old, he went to the Steffes' home to help Steffes' tear out insulation from his attic. Thorsby worked for Steffes for about a week, but quit because Steffes' brushed up against him, prodded him with a screwdriver, and caressed his buttocks and around his genital area. Thorsby reported the incidents to the police and charges were filed against Steffes. However, the case was later dismissed for lack of a speedy trial. Steffes testified at trial that he was not home during the time Thorsby alleged the incidents occurred.

Steffes denied committing any offenses against J.W. and R.T. Rather, Steffes' account of the events concerning Count I was that on the night J.W. slept over, he had caught J.W. and his son naked in one sleeping bag, and M.S. accused J.W. of molesting him. Steffes testified that he explained to J.W. that this kind of conduct was not allowed and that he should tell J.W.'s parents. However, after speaking to his wife about the incident, Steffes' testified he decided not to tell J.W.'s parents.

In testifying about Count II, Steffes stated that he found J.W. going through his dresser drawer and J.W. asked him not to tell his parents about him taking things. Steffes denied any contact or touching.

With respect to Count III, Steffes denied that he touched or videotaped R.T., and alleged that both his wife and M.S. would have been in the room at the time of the alleged incident. Steffes' wife and children testified on his behalf.

Additional facts will be presented as necessary for discussion of the issues.


Whether the District Court erred in denying the motion to dismiss based on insufficiency of the amended information?

In his motion to dismiss, Steffes argues that the amended information was insufficient because it failed to inform him of all of the essential elements constituting the crime of deviate sexual conduct. Specifically, Steffes contends that the amended information did not contain the definition of "sexual contact."

Montana follows the general rule that an information is sufficient if it properly charges an offense in the language of the statute describing the offense. State v. Matson 1987), 227 Mont. 36, 43, 736 P.2d 971, 975. This rule supports the underlying purpose of an information which is to "reasonably apprise the person of the charges against him so that he may have an opportunity to prepare his defense." State v. Matt (1990), 245 Mont. 208, 213, 799 P.2d 1085, 1088. In determining if an information is sufficient, the court examines whether a person of common understanding would know what was charged. Matt, 799 P.2d at 1088, citing, State v. Longneck (1981), 196 Mont. 151, 640 P.2d 436.

At the time Steffes was charged, the applicable statute required that the charging document (1) state the name of the offense; (2) cite in customary form the statute, rule, or other provision of law which the defendant is alleged to have violated; (3) state the facts constituting the offense in ordinary and concise language and in such a manner as to enable a person of common understanding to know what is intended. Section...

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