December 22, 2017
The Cheese Lady
The week of December 18, 2017, was the not the most poignant as far as case law is concerned so we are going to talk to about a cheese lady. A lot of times, this blog tries to educate the
public at large my mom on case law, but sometimes cases are just funny. This is that case. In State v. Ryerson, the COA considered whether past bad behavior at a pizza place would be admissible for disorderly conduct about bad behavior at the same pizza place trial. Here are the facts:
Ms. Ryerson was accused of acting inappropriately at a pizza place. I am going to guess Godfather’s Pizza. She left in a cab before law enforcement could arrive and the taxi company was not able to provide her name. The following day, an officer investigating pizza gate got her name and address from an unrelated civil matter. Mozzarella v. Ryerson. She got charged with disorderly conduct. Her defense was she has not been to the pizza place in three years. During the trial, the owner of the restaurant identified Ryerson as the person in the pizza place that fateful day. She said Ryerson yelled at one of her employees and she asked Ryerson to leave when she was taking too much Parmesan for her pizza. She said she has seen Ryerson about eight times and Ryerson has the habit of emptying out all the Parmesan shakers on her one piecce of pizza.
The assistant manager also identified appellant at trial as the person who caused a disturbance at the restaurant. She testified that she has had six interactions with appellant, and that appellant used vulgar language during those interactions, complained about the food and cost, would “dump Parmesan” into her food container, and would arrive at the restaurant in a taxi. She testified that, on the day of the incident, appellant entered the restaurant and complained about the food options and cost. She testified that appellant used the “F-word” and “B-word” and said “sh-t a few different times to a few . . . other customers.” She testified that she witnessed appellant have a confrontation with two different customers, one of whom had young children with her. She testified that appellant called the customer a “sh–ty mother” who “was being a b—h.”
A customer also testified during the trial. She identified appellant as the person with whom she interacted. She testified that she intervened when appellant called another customer a “piece of sh-t” and complained about the employees. She testified that appellant then called her “an ugly piece of sh-t.” The customer testified that the incident left her five-year-old son “flabbergasted” and that he talked about the incident for days afterward.
Let’s put aside the objective fact that Ryerson rules, to discuss how the jury was instructed. The district court instructed the jury that disorderly conduct includes conduct that is offensive, obscene, abusive, boisterous or noisy, or abusive language that qualifies as “fighting words.” Ryerson got convicted and appealed the decision.
The question became did Ryerson get a fair trial when the jury heard about all her other Parmesan cheese discretions?
Minn. R. Evid. 404(b) prohibits the use of evidence of another crime, wrong, or act “to prove the character of a person in order to show action in conformity therewith.” Such evidence, commonly known as Spreigl evidence in Minnesota, is generally excluded because “it might . . . suggest that the defendant has a propensity to commit the crime or that the defendant is a proper candidate for punishment for his or her past acts.” State v. Fardan, 773 N.W.2d 303, 315 (Minn. 2009) (quotations omitted); see State v. Spreigl, 272 Minn. 488, 490, 139 N.W.2d 167, 169 (1965).
The challenged evidence established that appellant frequented the restaurant and complained, used vulgar language, and took excessive amounts of Parmesan while there. But the court says these weren’t even bad acts. As someone who is mindful of the public cheese distribution that is almost offense. But I can see the otherside of it as well, if you don’t want someone to take all of the Parmesan; put the Parmesan on the pizza yourself. It seems like this was a self inflicted wound for the pizza place. So the court says these are not prior acts so the employees can talk about all the excessive cheese shaking that they want. Even if it was considered a prior bad, it would still would not be Spreigl evidence because prior cheese behavior and complaints were “very unique, very memorable” to the employees.
So Ryerson loses and let this be a lesson to you. If you are going to use excessive Parmesan, don’t go back to the same crime scene. Go from pizza place to place and let the pizza managers try to establish a serial Parmesan shaker while working together. Don’t do make it as easy on them by going back to the scene of the crime. It is like an arsonist showing up at their own fire and dumping Parmesan on it.