March 2024

EVIDENCE: PHYSICIAN-PATIENT PRIVILEGE DOES NOT APPLY TO PARAMEDICS

When police and paramedics responded to a car crash, police suspected Appellant, the driver, was impaired by controlled substances. On the way to the hospital, Appellant told paramedics he had snorted “too much” heroin. His statement to paramedics was admitted at his trial for first degree DWI, at the conclusion of which he was found guilty.

Evidentiary privileges are included in Minn. Stat. § 595.02, subd. 1, and includes the physician-patient privilege, which Appellant argued applied to his statement to paramedics. The court notes that this privilege is construed narrowly, and that the statute explicitly lists the medical professionals to whom the privilege applies. The list does not include paramedics, leading the court to conclude the privilege does not apply to communications between paramedics and patients. Affirmed. State v. Smeby, A23-0516, 4 N.W.3d 165 (Minn. Ct. App. Mar. 4, 2024).

FOURTH AMENDMENT: GOOD FAITH EXCEPTION DOES NOT APPLY TO SEARCH CONDUCTED PURSUANT TO A QUASHED WARRANT THAT APPEARED ACTIVE DUE TO A CLERICAL ERROR

Police arrested Appellant on a warrant that was quashed but mistakenly appeared active in their database due to a clerical error by court administration. During a search incident to her arrest, police found controlled substances. Appellant moved to suppress the controlled substance evidence and dismiss the four controlled substance charges laid against her. The district court granted her motions, but the Court of Appeals reversed.

The Supreme Court first finds that the record supports the district court’s conclusion that the warrant was quashed before Appellant’s arrest. As the warrant was quashed, her arrest and search violated Minn. Const. Art. I, sec. 10, and the usual remedy is the exclusion of evidence obtained as a result of the unlawful search. The rule is applied when it serves its remedial goals – that is, deterring governmental misconduct.

One exception to the exclusionary rule is good faith. Federal Fourth Amendment jurisprudence has applied the good faith exception to evidence obtained in reasonable reliance ona quashed warrant that appears active due to a clerical court error. However, the Supreme Court declines to extend that application to a violation of Minnesota’s constitution. The court cites its discretion to grant greater rights under the state’s constitution than are provided under the federal constitution.

In Minnesota, the court has adopted the good faith exception in one limited circumstance: when law enforcement reasonably relied on binding appellate precedent that specifically authorized the police conduct that led to the seizure of evidence. The court has specifically declined to further extend the exception. In this case, the constitutional violation was closely connected to a governmental error, the court’s clerical error. Excluding the evidence police obtained after unlawfully searching Appellant serves to deter misconduct by the government, where, as here, the courts and police worked closely to maintain and manage governmental records, i.e., the arrest warrant database. Thus, the court holds that the good faith exception does not apply to a search conducted pursuant to a quashed warrant that appeared active due to a clerical error. The district court’s order dismissing the charges against Appellant is reinstated. State v. Malecha, A22-1314, 3 N.W.3d 566 (Minn. Sup. Ct. Mar. 6, 2024).

FOURTH AMENDMENT: TRASH PULL IS NOT AN UNREASONABLE SEARCH EVEN IF LOCAL ORDINANCE PROHIBITS THE INSPECTION OF PRIVATE WASTE RECEPTACLES

Police obtained a search warrant for Appellant’s house using evidence obtained afterpolice removed two trash bags from a garbage can outside Appellant’s house. When police executed the warrant, methamphetamine and drug paraphernalia were found in Appellant’s house. She sought suppression of evidence found in her house, arguing the garbage pull evidence used to obtain the search warrant was seized in violation of her constitutional rights. The district court denied Appellant’s motion and found her guilty of various drug offenses after a stipulated facts trial.

The Court of Appeals notes that both the United States and Minnesota Supreme Courts have held that a warrantless search of garbage set out for collection does not violate constitutional protections against unreasonable searches and seizures. See California v. Greenwood, 486 U.S. 35 (1988); State v. McMurray, 860 N.W.2d 686 (Minn. 2015). The court emphasized that garbage set out for collection is abandoned property without Fourth Amendment protection, rather than “papers and effects” that are protected.

The court also rejected Appellant’s argument that a county ordinance governing solid waste changes the constitutional analysis. The ordinance makes it illegal to inspect or remove the contents of another person’s waste receptacle without prior authorization and provides no exception for law enforcement. Local ordinances may not enlarge constitutional protections. The district court did not err by denying Appellant’s motion to suppress. State v. Hansen, A23-0428, 2024 WL 1146505 (Minn. Ct. App. Mar. 18, 2024).

SENTENCING: DISTRICT COURT HAS DISCRETION TO IMPOSE AN UPWARD DEPARTURE WHERE SEXUAL ASSAULT OF PHYSICALLY HELPLESS VICTIM OCCURRED IN THE VICTIM’S ZONE OF PRIVACY

Appellant was convicted of third-degree criminal sexual conduct against a physically helpless person. The jury found the offense, which took place in the victim’s bedroom, occurred in the victim’s zone of privacy. The district court imposed an upward durational departure based on the zone-of-privacy aggravating factor, and the Court of Appeals affirmed.

A district court may depart from a presumptive sentence if there are “identifiable, substantial, and compelling circumstances to support a departure. Minn. Sent. Guidelines 2.D.1. One factor that may support an upward departure is the commission of the offense in the victim’s zone of privacy. Id. at 2.D.3.b(14). The Supreme Court rejects Appellant’s argument that this aggravating factor should not apply to sexual attacks against physically helpless victims because such attacks often occur in bedrooms. Case law shows that these attacks often occur outside the victim’s zone of privacy. The zone-of-privacy aggravating factor is also not limited to markedly unusual or distinctive circumstances, nor is it limited to certain types of offenses. The factor focuses solely on where the offense was committed. Thus, the court holds that the zone-of- privacy factor applies when a sexual assault of a physically helpless victim occurs within the victim’s zone of privacy.

As Appellant’s offense occurred within the victim’s bedroom, an area within her zone of privacy, the district court did not err in imposing an upward durational sentencing departure. State v. Vanengen, A22-0105, 3 N.W.3d 579 (Minn. Sup. Ct. Mar. 6, 2024).

CONTROLLED SUBSTANCES: CIRCUMSTANTIAL EVIDENCE PROVED BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT THE DEFENDANT KNEW THE VICTIM WAS A CHILD WHEN HE PROVIDED HER WITH METHAMPHETAMINE

Appellant lived next door to a mother, her three children, and one of the children’s friends, A.D., who lived with them for a period of time. Appellant often entered their home and routinely secretly gave marijuana to one of the daughters, K.F., who was A.D.’s best friend. He often commented on K.F.’s age. When K.F. and A.D. were both 14 years old, Appellant supplied them with marijuana, THC wax, and methamphetamine. Appellant was subsequently charged with knowingly permitting a child to ingest methamphetamine, in violation of Minn. Stat. § 152.137, subd. 2(b). He was found guilty after a jury trial and his conviction was affirmed on appeal, with the Court of Appeals holding that section 152.137, subd. 2(b), does not require proof that the defendant knew the child was under the age of 18.

The Supreme Court finds it unnecessary to decide whether section 152.137, subd. 2(b), requires the State to prove the defendant knew the child was under the age of 18. Even if the statute required such proof, the court finds that the circumstantial evidence “is consistent with a reasonable hypothesis that the defendant knew the victim was a child and inconsistent with any other rational hypothesis except that of guilt.” The Court of Appeals is affirmed, but on different grounds. State v. Lehman, A22-0200, 3 N.W.3d 875 (Minn. Sup. Ct. Mar. 13, 2024).

ASSAULT: DOMESTIC ASSAULT IS NOT A LESSER DEGREE OF SECOND- DEGREE ASSAULT

Appellant was convicted of second-degree assault and felony domestic assault for hitting his girlfriend in the head with a broom handle. He argued on appeal that the broom handle was not a dangerous weapon and that his two convictions for one assaultive act were improper, because felony domestic assault is a lesser included crime of second-degree assault. The Court of Appeals affirmed his convictions.

First, the Supreme Court determines the evidence was sufficient to prove the broom handle was a dangerous weapon. Second-degree assault requires use of a dangerous weapon. The item used need not be designed as a weapon; it need only be used or intended to be used in a manner likely to produce death or great bodily harm. See Minn. Stat. § 609.02, subd. 6. “Likely” in this context means “probable or reasonably expected.” Whether an object was used in such a manner is question of fact.

In this case, Appellant wielded a two- to three-foot long, one-inch diameter wood broom handle, hitting the victim in the head so hard that she received seven stitches and the broom handle broke. A jury could reasonably conclude that great bodily harm was probable or reasonably expected to result from using a broom handle in such a manner.

Next, the court rejects Appellant’s argument that domestic assault is a “lesser degree” of second-degree assault and, therefore, that his conviction for domestic assault was prohibited. Minn. Stat. § 609.04, subd. 1, provides that a defendant “may be convicted of either the crime charged or an included offense, but not both.” An “included offense” includes “a lesser degree of the same crime.” Id. at subd. 1(1). The court finds that section 609.04, subd. 1(1)’s reference to “degree” refers “to the ordinally numbered degrees found throughout the criminal code.”

While domestic assault and second-degree assault are both labelled “assault,” but they are not found in the same multi-tier statutory scheme. By placing domestic assault outside the multiple degree scheme of assault offenses, the legislature intended to establish domestic assault as a separate offense from other assaults. Thus, domestic assault is not a “lesser degree” of second-degree assault and Appellant’s convictions for both offenses was proper. State v. Bradley, A22-0960, 4 N.W.3d 105 (Minn. Sup. Ct. Mar. 20, 2024).

POSTCONVICTION: TEST FOR NEWLY DISCOVERED EVIDENCE APPLIES TO THE PETITIONER’S PROFFERED EXPERT OPINION THAT MERELY OFFERS A DIFFERENT VIEW FROM THE STATE’S EXPERT

Appellant was convicted of third-degree criminal sexual conduct in 2018. He filed a petition for postconviction relief alleging two of the State’s expert witnesses testified falsely. At trial, a nurse who examined the victim after the assault and a BCA forensic scientist testified regarding DNA evidence. To support his postconviction claim, Appellant submitted an affidavit from a newly-retained expert who opined that the nurse and scientist testified falsely.

The Supreme Court first finds that Appellant’s postconviction claim is one of newly discovered evidence, not one of newly discovered evidence of false testimony. Appellant’s single expert merely disagreed with and impeached portions of the State’s experts. Potentially impeaching a witness’ testimony and credibility does not render the witness’ testimony false. Thus, the court concludes that “[c]laims based on [a new expert opinion that merely offers a different view from the expert opinions presented at trial] are appropriately characterized as claims of newly discovered evidence and are properly analyzed under the Rainer test.” See Rainer v. State, 566 N.W.2d 692 (Minn. 1997).

Ultimately, the court finds that, even if Appellant’s newly discovered evidence could be proved by a fair preponderance of the evidence, it would not satisfy the Rainer test. Therefore, the district court did not abuse its discretion when it denied Appellant an evidentiary hearing. Tichich v. State, A22-1063, 4 N.W.3d 114 (Minn. Sup. Ct. Mar. 20, 2024).

POSTCONVICTION: NEW TRIAL GRANTED DUE TO MEDICAL EXPERTS’ FALSE TESTIMONY

Respondent was convicted of two counts of second-degree felony murder following the death of his two-month-old son caused by traumatic brain injury. At trial, two medical experts testified for the State, an ophthalmologist who testified that he observed macular schisid in the child’s left eye and that “there really isn’t any other type of cause” for macular schisis other than abusive head trauma. A pathologist also testified as to the connection between macular schisis and abusive head trauma.

Respondent requested a new trial in a postconviction petition. An evidentiary hearing was held, during which the ophthalmologist testified that there are numerous causes of macular schisis. The district court ordered a new trial, finding that the State’s medical experts had stated a false medical fact: that macular schisis is not caused by anything other than abusive head trauma. The Court of Appeals affirmed.

The Supreme Court analyzes whether the district court appropriately applied the Larrison test for false or recanted testimony, as opposed to the Rainer test for newly discovered evidence. See Larrison v. United States, 24 F.2d 82 (7 th Cir. 1928); Rainer v. State, 566 N.W.2d 692 (Minn. 1997). The testimony at issue was demonstrably factual and false, taking the evidence within the purview of Larrison, as opposed to testimony given as opinion or that was factually accurate at the time of trial, which would require analysis of Respondent’s claims under Rainer.

Given the postconviction testimony and evidence, the State’s experts’ testimony at trial, that macular schisis is only caused by abuse, could not have been true. This false testimony from two medical experts “had a powerful inculpatory effect” in a case that was proven through circumstantial evidence. Respondent also had not consulted the necessary experts to explain the causes of macular schisis and, even if he had, there would have been no reason for him to expect the State would falsely claim macular schisis was caused only by abuse. Thus, Respondent satisfied his burden under the Larrison test and the district court properly granted him a new trial. Kaiser v. State, A22-0749, 4 N.W.3d 95 (Minn. Sup. Ct. Mar. 13, 2024).

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