A jury found Appellant guilty of second-degree intentional murder, rejecting Appellant’s claim of self-defense. In an anonymous, post-trial questionnaire, one juror stated she informed others of the “obligation to retreat” she reported learning in permit to carry classes. Appellant moved for a Schwartz hearing for the district court to question the jurors about this extraneous information Appellant argued could have prejudiced the jury. Due to the jurors’ schedules, the court divided the hearing into two parts, with two jurors being questioned at an earlier date. The court ordered the first hearing closed to the public, to prevent the first two jurors’ testimony from influencing those who would be questioned later. The Court of Appeals found Appellant’s right to a public trial was violated by closing the first hearing to the public and remanded the case to conduct a new Schwartz hearing to question the first two jurors in an open hearing. The Supreme Court notes that it has never addressed whether the right to a public trial applies to a Schwartz hearing but assumes without deciding here that it does. The purpose of a Schwartz hearing is to build a record of past facts relevant to limited and discrete issues, that is, whether misconduct occurred during jury deliberations. It is also a standalone proceeding that can easily be separated from the rest of the trial. A Schwartz hearing, therefore, is similar to a pretrial suppression hearing for purposes of determining the appropriate remedy for a public trial violation. A violation of the right to a public trial during a suppression hearing is remedied by remanding for a new hearing, rather than granting a new trial. Here, the public trial right violation affected the testimony of only two jurors. Thus, on remand, only these two jurors need to be re-questioned, unless they testify in a manner that is materially different from how they testified in the original proceeding. In that case, the district court should conduct a new, public Schwartz hearing to re-question the remaining ten jurors. State v. Jackson, 977 N.W.2d 169 (Minn. July 6, 2022).
Appellant pleaded guilty to a complaint charging Appellant with felony violation of a domestic abuse no contact order (DANCO), in which the State alleged Appellant was previously convicted of two separate violations of a DANCO. While entering his plea, he was not asked by anyone about his previous convictions. His plea was accepted, but before sentencing Appellant moved to withdraw his guilty plea. The district court denied his motion, but the Court of Appeals reversed, because the factual basis failed to adequately support Appellant’s plea, because the plea colloquy made no reference to or acknowledgement of any prior DANCO violations. In this case, the charge was enhanced from a gross misdemeanor to a felony because of Appellant’s prior convictions. The prior convictions are alleged in the complaint, and Appellant had the opportunity to review the complaint and discuss his plea with his lawyer. Appellant also does not contest the validity of the prior convictions. Under these circumstances, Appellant’s failure to expressly acknowledge those convictions in the plea colloquy does not give rise to a manifest injustice. Therefore, withdrawal of his guilty plea was not required. This holding is narrow and the Supreme Court encourages district courts to ensure plea colloquies are thorough. State v. Epps, A20-1151, 2022 WL 2709436 (Minn. July 13, 2022).
Appellant pleaded guilty to aiding an offender to avoid arrest and being an accomplice after the fact, after helping her husband and son hide evidence. Her husband and son were indicted for first-degree premeditated murder, so Appellant acknowledged in her plea petition she could be sentenced to “imprisonment for one half of a life sentence.” The district court sentenced Appellant to 48 months for her accomplice after the fact conviction. The Court of Appeals affirmed. Appellant argues the district court did not have authority to sentence her, because the statutory maximum penalty for being an accomplice after the fact – one-half of the statutory maximum penalty for the principal offense – cannot be determined when the principal crime is first-degree murder, an offense punishable by an indeterminate period of time. The accomplice after the fact statute, Minn. Stat. § 609.495, subd. 3, is clear that to determine the sentence for violating the statute, the court looks to the maximum sentence that the principal offender could receive and calculate one-half of that sentence. Here, the maximum sentence for the principal offense is life. While the length of a life sentence will vary among offenders, Minnesota's homicide sentencing scheme is such that a life sentence must be more than 40 years, the maximum sentence for second-degree murder. Thus, one-half of a life sentence must be more than 20 years. Appellant’s sentence does not exceed this statutory maximum, so her sentence is authorized by law. State v. Miller, A21-0221, 977 N.W.2d 592 (Minn. July 13, 2022).
Appellant, 21 years old, appealed his conviction for first-degree premeditated murder, as well as his mandatory sentence of life without the possibility of parole. The Supreme Court first finds sufficient circumstantial evidence to support his conviction. The court then holds that a mandatory life sentence without the possibility of parole for a 21-year-old convicted of premeditated murder is not unconstitutional cruel. The legislature dictated that offenders convicted of first-degree premeditated murder be imprisoned for life without the possibility of parole. Statutory punishments are presumed constitutional and Appellant has not met the heavy burden of showing that “our culture and laws emphatically and well-nigh universally reject” this sentence. State v. Chambers, 589 N.W.2d 466, 479 (Minn. 1999). Appellant also has not shown his punishment is disproportionate to his offense. He was not a juvenile at the time of the offense, the offense involved premeditation, and the offense was calculated and put many people’s lives at risk. Thus, Appellant’s sentence is not unconstitutionally cruel. State v. Hassan, A21-0453, 977 N.W.2d 633 (Minn. July 13, 2022).
Respondent was charged with second-degree criminal sexual conduct. He moved for an in camera review of records relating to the 15-year-old victim held by the Hope Coalition (“Coalition”), a nonprofit organization supporting survivors of sexual assault which had a counselor present at a police interview of the victim. The district court granted Respondent’s motion. The Coalition argued it had an absolute privilege under Minn. Stat. § 595.02, subd. 1(k), to protect the victim’s counseling records from disclosure. The district court denied the Coalition’s request for reconsideration. After the Coalition failed to produce any records for in camera review, the district court granted Respondent’s request for a subpoena for the records. The district court denied the Coalition’s motion to quash the subpoena and the Coalition filed a Petition for Writ of Prohibition. The Court of Appeals denied the Coalition’s petition. Minn. Stat. § 595.02, subd. 1(k), provides that “[s]exual assault counselors may not be allowed to disclose any opinion or information from or about the victim without the consent of the victim.” The issue here centers on the meaning of “may not be allowed to disclose.” The Supreme Court holds that the plain meaning of “may not” in this statute is prohibitive – that is, it is synonymous with “shall not.” Thus, sexual abuse counselors are statutorily prohibited from disclosing privileged records in a criminal proceeding without the victim’s consent, and a district court may not order otherwise. The court further concludes that Respondent’s rights to confront his accuser and to present a complete defense were not violated by nondisclosure of the privileged records. The State has a compelling interest in protecting the privacy of sexual assault victims, and the sexual assault counselor privilege is narrowly tailored to achieve that interest. The court holds that Respondent’s constitutional rights do not outweigh the interest in protecting victims’ privacy. Because the sexual assault counselor privilege cannot be pierced in criminal proceedings, the district court was unauthorized by law when it denied the Coalition’s motion to quash the subpoena. The write of prohibition requested by the Coalition is issued. In re Hope Coalition, A21-0880, 977 N.W.2d 651 (Minn. July 13, 2022).
Appellant was charged with threats of violence and assault in January 2020. He demanded speedy trial in February 2020. COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic in March 2020. As a result, the Supreme Court ordered no new trials to begin. Per the Supreme Court’s orders, Appellant’s trial was delayed twice, to June 2020. Prior to both delays, Appellant reiterated his speedy trial demand. After a court trial, Appellant was found guilty of both charges. He argues on appeal that his speedy trial right was violated.
To determine if a defendant’s speedy trial right has been violated, the court considers the Barker factors: (1) the length of the delay; (2) the reason for the delay; (3) the defendant’s assertion of his right; and (4) the prejudice to the defendant.
A trial held more than 60 days after a speedy trial demand is considered presumptively prejudicial. Here, Appellant’s trial started 105 days after his first demand. As to the reason for the delay, the parties agree the delay was attributable to the State, but they disagree on the weight this factor should be assigned. The court holds that delays related to the judicial system’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic do not weigh against the State. The court distinguishes against internal factors (such as court congestion), which do weigh against the State, and external factors (such as COVID), which do not. As to the third Barker factor, Appellant repeatedly demanded a speedy trial and opposed delays. The court rejects the State’s suggestion that the reason why Appellant demanded speedy trial is relevant to this factor. The frequency and force of Appellant’s demands weigh in his favor. The final factor, however, weighs against Appellant. The court finds he was not unfairly prejudiced by the 45-day delay.
Balancing all four factors, the court concludes “the State brought [Appellant] to trial quickly enough so as not to endanger the values that the right to a speedy trial protects.” State v. Paige, A20-1228, 2022 WL 2826253 (Minn. July 20, 2022).
Appellant was charged with domestic assault after pulling his girlfriend from a doorway and causing her to fall in response to her attempt to prevent him from leaving. At his trial, the district court instructed the jury on self-defense, specifically instructing that Appellant could use reasonable force to “resist an assault against the person.” The jury found him guilty.
The Court of Appeals holds that the district court’s self-defense instruction was erroneous, “because the law of self-defense justifies a person to use force more broadly to resist any offense against the person,” not only to resist an assault. The self-defense statute, Minn. Stat. § 609.06, subd. 1(3), on its face does not limit self-defense to resisting only an assault or other offenses resulting in bodily harm. The legislature included a bodily harm component to the use of deadly force statute which immediately follows and relates to the self-defense statute, evidencing that the legislature’s omission of a bodily harm prerequisite from the self-defense statute was intentional. This interpretation of self-defense is also consistent with legislative history and common law. However, the court affirms Appellant’s conviction. Appellant failed to object to the instruction at trial, so the instruction is reviewed for plain error. The instruction was erroneous, but it was not plain, because this interpretation of the self-defense statute had not been clarified in caselaw at the time of the erroneous instruction. State v. Lampkin, A20-0361, 2022 WL 2912048 (Minn. Ct. App. July 25, 2022).