Appellant pleaded guilty to first-degree criminal sexual conduct in 2018. He was sentenced to a stayed sentence of 144 months in prison, with a 30-year probationary term. Conditions of his probation included completing sex offender treatment, no unsupervised contact with minor females, and no use of sexually explicit materials. He violated all of these conditions, including multiple violations of the no unsupervised contact condition, so the district court revoked his probation and executed his sentence.
Appellant argues the district court did not make sufficient factual findings to support the revocation, but the Court of Appeals disagrees. The district court designated the specific conditions that were violated, found the violations intentional and inexcusable, and found the need for confinement outweighed the policies favoring probation (“Austin factors”). State v. Austin, 295 N.W.2d 246, 250 (Minn. 1980). As to the third Austin factor, specifically found that confinement was necessary to protect the public from further criminal activity by Appellant, State v. Motland, 695 N.W.2d 602, 607 (Minn. 2005), pointing to specific evidence presented regarding Appellant’s behavior and the risks of such behavior. State v. Smith, A22-1715, 2023 WL 441161040 (Minn. Ct. App. July 10, 2023).
After his conviction in June 2019 for felony domestic assault, Appellant’s 15-month sentence was stayed for five years. In August 2021, Appellant’s probation was revoked, and his sentence was executed. In July 2022, Appellant filed a postconviction petition, arguing prosecutorial misconduct deprived him of a fair trial. The district court denied Appellant’s petition, finding it time barred. Postconviction petitions must be filed within two years of the entry of judgment of conviction or sentence, if no direct appeal is filed, or an appellate court’s disposition of the petitioner’s direct appeal. Minn. Stat. § 590.01, subd. 4(a). Appellant argues the two-year period began in his case when the district court executed his sentence in August 2021, because the execution of his sentence was a modification of his sentence. The Court of Appeals disagrees. The district court executed the sentence it had previously imposed per the requirements of Minn. Stat. § 609.14, subd. 3(2), which governs revocation of a stay of execution. Appellant’s sentence remains unchanged from when it was imposed in 2019. As Appellant did not file a direct appeal, the postconviction statute of limitations expired two years after he was sentenced in June 2019, and his July 2022 petition was untimely. Brouillette v. State, A23-0020, 2023 WL 4411614 (Minn. Ct. App. July 10, 2023).
Police stopped Appellant’s vehicle for brake light and license plate violations when they noticed a firearm in the vehicle. As neither Appellant nor his passenger had permits to carry, the vehicle was searched for weapons, finding heroin and methamphetamine. Appellant and his passenger were arrested, and the vehicle was impounded. After the passenger posted bail, she asked to retrieve items from the vehicle. When brought to the vehicle, she acted suspiciously and tried to conceal something from the vehicle in her jacket. Police found black plastic lockbox was found in the jacket, which contained a variety of controlled substances. Appellant was thereafter charged with first-degree and fifth-degree controlled substance offenses. His motion to suppress evidence in the lockbox was denied. After a stipulated facts trial, Appellant was convicted of the first-degree offenses.
Appellant does not argue the initial search of the vehicle was unlawful, and the Court of Appeals notes that the automobile exception to the warrant requirement authorized police to conduct the search for concealed firearms or controlled substances. Appellant argues, however, that the lockbox was removed from the vehicle before any probable cause arose to believe it contained contraband.
The court explains that probable cause to search a vehicle does not expire when it is impounded. As police had probable cause to search the vehicle for weapons and controlled substances when it was first impounded, the vehicle remained in the custody and control of police, and no other circumstances dispelled probable cause to believe additional contraband could be found in the vehicle, police were authorized by the automobile exception to search Appellant’s vehicle at the time the passenger arrived at the impound lot to remove property from the vehicle. The court also rejects Appellant’s argument that the passenger’s removal of the lockbox from the vehicle rendered it in searchable. Under the automobile exception, police are permitted to search any container that was inside a vehicle at the time there was probable cause to search it. Police were authorized to search the lockbox even after it was removed from the vehicle because they had probable cause to search the vehicle when the lockbox was removed. State v. Schell, A22-1115, 2023 WL 4692914 (Minn. Ct. App. July 24, 2023).
Appellant was charged with first-degree aggravated robbery and all spectators were excluded from the courtroom during his trial, pursuant to a COVID-19 trial plan. The trial was broadcast via a one-way video feed in a nearby courtroom. Appellant was convicted and argued for a new trial, claiming his right to a public trial was violated. The Court of Appeals found the trial was partially closed, but ultimately concluded Appellant’s public trial right was not violated.
The Supreme Court first determines that the district court’s complete exclusion of the public from the trial courtroom was a “true closure subject to constitutional scrutiny.” Not a single member of the public was allowed into the trial courtroom. Although a video feed was provided, “[t]he constitutional values of having trial participants understand they are being observed and providing the support of family to the defendant… are undermined when the public is only allowed to view the proceedings from a secondary location via a one-way video feed.”
The court goes on to recognize that protecting trial participants and the public during the COVID-19 pandemic was an overriding interest that justified some restrictions on attendance at the trial. However, even if an overriding interest is present, the district court must make specific detailed findings showing how the restrictions are no broader than necessary to protect the overriding interest and that the district court considered reasonable alternatives to closure.
Here, the district court’s decision to exclude all spectators was supported by adequate findings regarding the size of the courtroom and social distancing guidelines. However, the district court did not make adequate findings for the Supreme Court to assess whether the district court considered reasonable alternatives to closure or make any findings explaining why a one-way video feed to another courtroom made the closure no broader than necessary. The case is remanded to the district court to make a record on the reasonable alternatives to closure it considered and on whether the trial closure was broader than necessary. State v. Bell, A20-1638, 2023 WL 4750955 (Minn. July 26, 2023).
Respondent was charged with misdemeanor domestic assault. The State moved to introduce a body worn camera recording showing the victim’s statement regarding Respondent’s physical abuse after the victim refused to respond to the State’s subpoena. The district court granted Respondent’s motion to suppress the recording, concluding the victim’s statements did not fall within the excited utterance hearsay exception and that her statements were testimonial under the Confrontation Clause. The Court of Appeals affirmed, finding that admission of the recording would violate Respondent’s right to confrontation. The Supreme Court first concludes that the district court properly found the excited utterance hearsay exception inapplicable. Courts are to consider a number of factors, including the length of time between the utterance and the event at issue, the nature of the event, the declarant’s physical condition, and any possible motive to falsify. The Court notes that, while not required, a physical manifestation of stress is often a key indicator of “an aura of excitement.” The district court found here that the victim had an unexcited demeanor, enough time had passed for the victim to suggest that Respondent may have fallen asleep, and nearly all of the victim’s recorded statement was made in response to questions by the police. Under these findings, the Court decides the district court properly excluded the body worn camera recording of the victim’s statement as inadmissible hearsay. The Court does not address Respondent’s claim of a Confrontation Clause violation. State v. Tapper, A22-0161, 2023 WL 4751211 (Minn. July 26, 2023).