State v. Pulst

State v. Pulst, 2015 MT 184 (June 30, 2015) (Wheat, J.) (5-0, aff’d & rev’d)

Issue: (1) Whether trial court abused its discretion by admitting evidence of uncharged sexual assault; (2) whether trial court abused its discretion by excluding evidence that victim’s mother observed and photographed bruises on victim several years after sexual assaults; and (3) whether trial court’s written sentence conformed to oral sentence.

Short Answer: (1) No; (2) no; and (3) no, requiring remand for correction.

Affirmed in part and reversed in part

Facts: AB, born in 1988, frequently visited family in Chester when she was a child. Pulst, AB’s uncle, would take AB on drives between the time she was 7 and 11 years old, and sexually assault her. He told her not to tell anyone, and she was silent for several years.

In 1999, Pulst visited AB’s family and stayed with them in their home. On the last night, AB reported that Pulst sexually assaulted her in her bedroom. After that, AB told her mother about the assault, as well as the assaults in Montana. When AB’s mother told her sister about what happened, her sister spoke to her daughter, KS, who reported that Pulst had sexually assaulted her in the same manner he had assaulted AB. She also reported her had masturbated in front of her and once removed her underwear and digitally penetrated her.

The state charged Pulst in June 2012 with sexual assault, sexual intercourse without consent, and indecent exposure. He did not dispute AB’s and KS’s allegations, but said he did not remember assaulting them.

Procedural Posture & Holding: At trial, Pulst moved to suppress evidence of the assault in Washington. The district court denied the motion, allowing the evidence for a limited purpose. Pulst also sought to introduce evidence that KS had been abused by her husband, to show alternate grounds for her trauma and to undermine her credibility. The state objected and the district court sustained the objection. The jury convicted Pulst of all charges. The court entered sentence orally, followed by a written sentence entered three weeks later. Pulst appeals.

Reasoning: (1) Pulst argues that the probative value of the assault in Washington was outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice. Evidence of other crimes are especially likely to create unfair prejudice. But the district court carefully controlled the admission of the evidence and did not abuse its discretion.

(2) The district court held that evidence of KS’s abuse by her husband was not relevant. Evidence of KS’s bruises and speculation about their cause is not relevant evidence, and the district court did not abuse its discretion.

(3) Pulst contends four conditions of the written judgment differ from the oral sentence. The state concedes that two of the conditions should be corrected, but disagrees that the other two were not orally pronounced. The Supreme Court agrees with the state regarding the chemical dependency evaluation, but agrees with Pulst regarding the written condition requiring Pulst to attend self-help meetings. The oral pronouncement was permissive while the written judgment was mandatory. The judgment is reversed and remanded to correct the three unlawful conditions.