SUPREME COURT OF MINNESOTA
State of Minnesota v. Pearson
Appellant Larry Demetrius Pearson challenged his conviction for first-degree murder and unlawful possession of a firearm. In his appeal, Pearson raised the following issues: (1) whether the trial court erred by admitting as rebuttal evidence a videotaped statement made by Pearson to a police officer; (2) whether the State committed misconduct; and (3) whether Pearson was denied his right to effective assistance of counsel. The Supreme Court rejected the defendant’s arguments and found:
1. The trial court did not commit reversible error when it admitted as rebuttal evidence a partially redacted videotape of the defendant’s conversation with a police officer. The videotape was the best evidence available for the jury to use in evaluating the defendant’s credibility. Likewise, although the jury may have viewed Pearson in a negative light because of his language and demeanor on the videotape, the potential for unfair prejudice from the videotape did not outweigh the videotape’s probative value.
2. The State did not commit misconduct that prejudiced the defendant’s substantial rights. Pearson claimed that the State committed misconduct by, among other things, implying that the shooting stemmed from a robbery and by disparaging his theory of self-defense. Viewing the State’s closing argument as a whole and given the evidence against Pearson, the Court concluded that any references to Pearson’s robbery convictions did not prejudice his substantial rights or constitute misconduct requiring a new trial.
3. The defendant has not shown that his counsel’s representation rose to the level of ineffective assistance of counsel. Pearson alleged that his trial counsel failed to fully pursue the suppression of the videotape, failed to properly redact the videotape, and failed to elicit information about the victim’s prior acts. The Court found that such decisions about evidence and objections are matters of trial strategy that the Court will not second-guess; therefore, Pearson’s ineffective assistance of counsel claim necessarily fails.
State of Minnesota v. Riddley
Appellant Dontaro Riddley was convicted of first-degree premeditated murder and first-degree murder committed during the commission of an aggravated robbery. The two murder victims were shot in an alley in Northeast Minneapolis – they had been forced to their knees, had their shoes and socks taken off, and were robbed. That same evening, prior to the shooting, there was evidence that Riddley was involved in a similar robbery where the victim was forced to his knees, his shoes were removed, and he was robbed of his belongings. On appeal, Ridley argued that the trial court improperly admitted evidence of the earlier robbery.
Minnesota has long adhered to the common-law rule excluding evidence of prior bad acts except where the evidence fits within a specific exception. Although other bad acts evidence is often probative, it also carries a great likelihood of inflaming passions and resulting in unfair prejudice to the defendant. One exception to exclusion of prior bad acts is for “immediate episode evidence”. Immediate episode evidence is admissible “where two or more offenses are linked together in point of time or circumstances so that one cannot be fully shown without proving the other.”
In Riddley’s case, there was a close connection in terms of the time and location between the charged offenses and the earlier robbery. The prior acts and the charged crimes took place within a short time of each other—no more than 15 minutes apart—and they occurred around the same location—in alleys within one block of each other. However, there was no evidence that the murders were motivated by the earlier robbery or that the murders were committed to conceal the earlier robbery. The Supreme Court held that since the earlier robbery and charged murders did not have this close causal connection, this prior bad act did not constitute immediate-episode evidence.
Nonetheless, since Riddley failed to demonstrate that the prior bad act evidence significantly affected the verdict, the error was harmless and the conviction was upheld.
State of Minnesota v. Edwards
Appellant Christopher Edwards was convicted of one count of first-degree assault and three counts of drive-by-shooting arising out of a shooting incident in which three individuals sustained gunshot injuries. The district court imposed concurrent sentences for the drive-by shooting convictions involving two of the victims and imposed a 190-month sentence for the assault conviction involving the other victim, which is a 30-month upward departure. Edwards appealed arguing that the district court abused its discretion in imposing the upward durational departure for the first-degree assault conviction.
The Supreme Court held that when a defendant is convicted of several offenses involving multiple victims arising out of a single behavioral incident, a sentencing court may use “overlapping” facts of those offenses as the basis for an upward departure, provided that those facts show that the defendant committed the offense being sentenced in a particularly serious way. In the context of multiple victims arising out of the same behavioral incident, a sentencing court must determine, on a victim-by-victim basis, (1) whether any facts show that the offense being sentenced has been committed in a particularly serious way, and (2) whether any sentencing principle prohibited the use of those facts to depart upward on the offense being sentenced.
COURT OF APPEALS OF THE STATE OF MINNESOTA
State of Minnesota v. Betsy Lou Burkland
In State of Minnesota v. Betsy Lou Burkland, the appellant appeals her conviction of prostitution asserting that the police officer who was investigating prostitution engaged in “outrageous government conduct” that violated her constitutional right to due process when the officer initiated sexual contact. The court of appeals agreed and reversed the appellant’s conviction reasoning:
The due process rights guaranteed by the United States and Minnesota constitutions protect individuals against abusive governmental action. Our constitution states, “The concept of fundamental fairness inherent in the due process requirement will prevent conviction of even a predisposed defendant if the conduct of the government in participating in or inducing the commission of the crime is sufficiently outrageous.”
The due process issue has been challenged multiple times in the past arising out of prostitution related convictions. For example, the court affirmed the conviction of Morris where the officer exposed himself to the prostitute at her demand in order to demonstrate that he was not a police officer before she would negotiate a price. The officer did so but the court affirmed her conviction reasoning that the officer did so at her demand. Here, in Burkland, the officer actually initiated the contact by fondling the prostitute and permitted the escalation of the sexual contact. The court deemed that behavior “outrageous” and reversed Burkland’s conviction.
State of Minnesota vs. James John Geng
Appellant Geng claims prosecutorial misconduct and demands dismissal of his conviction of felony controlled substance crimes. Appellant agreed to provide a proffer of evidence to law enforcement in exchange for a plea agreement. Ultimately the proffer was signed by appellant and he did indeed provide a recorded statement to detectives. The prosecutor, however, declined to offer a plea agreement because the statement to detectives was “less forthcoming” than what it should have been.
After a review of the dialogue between defense counsel and the prosecutor as well as the language in the proffer form (standardized form written by the Attorney General’s Office) the court found that the prosecutor did not commit misconduct by failing to honor a promised plea agreement. From a letter from the prosecutor to defense counsel:
”Should Mr. Geng cooperate with the proffer, I anticipate allowing Mr. Geng to plead guilty to a lesser charge.”
Among other analysis of correspondence the court of appeals found the most critical language above and reasoned that “anticipating” a plea agreement is different from actually “agreeing.”
State of Minnesota v. Michele Joy Therriault
Appellant challenges her conviction for fifth-degree possession of methamphetamine, arguing that evidence should have been suppressed as the product of a warrantless search and was otherwise insufficient to convict her. Because the evidence was lawfully seized under the plain-view exception to the warrant requirement and was sufficient to uphold the conviction, the court affirmed.
Appellant was a passenger in a vehicle stopped for a cracked windshield. After the officer determined a warrant for appellant’s arrest, he asked her to step out of the vehicle. As she did so, a small object fell to the ground. As the officer bent over to retrieve it he noticed a cigarette pack in plain view on the floorboard. From his training and experience the officer believed that a cigarette pack is commonly used to hide drugs. The cigarette pack contained methamphetamine.
Appellant was convicted under the well-settled plain view exception to a warrantless search.
- Minnesota Criminal Caselaw for the Week of December 21-25, 2009
- Minnesota Criminal Caselaw Update for the Week of November 30 – December 4, 2009
- Minnesota Criminal Caselaw Update for the Week of December 14-18, 2009
- Minnesota Criminal Case Law Update For Week of November 16-20, 2009
- Minnesota Criminal Caselaw Update For the Week of January 4-8, 2010