MINNESOTA IMPRISONMENT AND EXONERATION REMEDIES ACT (MIERA): DEFENDANT IS NOT EXONERATED WHEN A CONVICTION IS VACATED BASED ON A CLARIFICATION OF THE LAW, IF CONDUCT VIOLATED EXISTING LAW AT THE TIME OF THE OFFENSE

Police were called after witnesses saw Appellant pushing A.R.H. into a vehicle and possessing a pistol. When police arrived, Appellant ignored their commands and he was placed under arrest, after which police located a BB gun nearby. Appellant was charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm, domestic assault, and obstruction of legal process. In 2010, he pleaded guilty to the felon in possession charge, and execution of a 60-month sentence was stayed for 10 years. In 2011, Appellant violated his probationary conditions and his sentence was executed. In 2016, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled that an air-powered BB gun is not a “firearm” under the felon in possession of a firearm statute. In 2017, the district court granted the State’s motion to vacate Appellant’s conviction and dismiss the charge against him. Appellant filed a petition for an order declaring him eligible for compensation under the MIERA. The district court denied his petition.

For compensation under the MIERA, a petitioner must have been exonerated. “Exonerated” is specifically defined in Minn. Stat. § 590.11, subd. 1(b), and requires that the petitioner’s judgment of conviction was vacated, reversed, or set aside, or a new trial ordered, “on grounds consistent with innocence.” “On grounds consistent with innocence” requires a showing of factual innocence.

Appellant’s conviction in 2010 was based on established law at that time, which held that a BB gun was a firearm under multiple statutes. The Supreme Court later determined that a BB gun is not a firearm specifically under the felon in possession statute. However, the Court of Appeals focuses on the fact that Appellant’s conduct was a crime under existing law at that time. The Supreme Court’s later clarification of the law does not change that fact. Appellant has provided no other evidence of his factual innocence. Thus, he does not qualify as “exonerated” under the MIERA. Kingbird v. State, 949 N.W.2d 744 (Minn. Ct. App. Aug. 31, 2020), review granted (Nov. 17, 2020).

EVIDENCE: CONFESSIONS TO MULTIPLE OFFENSES REQUIRE EVIDENCE CORROBORATING EITHER THE COMMISSION OF EACH OFFENSE OR THEIR ATTENDANT FACTS

Appellant was convicted of five criminal sexual conduct offenses. Among other arguments on appeal, he claims the evidence was insufficient to corroborate his confession to one of those offenses. Specifically, Appellant told an investigator that he allowed C.D., a ten-year-old, to hold his penis while he peed when they were scouting for deer.

A defendant’s confession is direct evidence of guilt, but it must be “sufficiently substantiated by independent evidence of attending facts or circumstances from which the jury may infer the trustworthiness of the confession.” In re Welfare of M.D.S., 345 N.W.2d 723, 735 (Minn. 1984).

Here, the State relied on the following evidence to corroborate Appellant’s deer scouting incident confession: C.D. testimony corroborated Appellant’s confessions to two other incidents, C.D.’s testimony about an incident of abuse while duck hunting with Appellant, a Facebook message Appellant sent to C.D. apologizing for his abuse. The court finds this evidence insufficient, as none of it specifically relates to the deer scouting incident. Therefore, the evidence was insufficient to allow the jury to infer the trustworthiness of Appellant’s confession as to the deer scouting incident and reach a guilty verdict, so his conviction for that offense is reversed. State v. Holl, 949 N.W.2d 461 (Minn. Ct. App. Aug. 24, 2020), review granted in part, denied in part (Nov. 17, 2020).

CRIMINAL SEXUAL CONDUCT: PHRASE “FORCE OR COERCION” IN FIRST-DEGREE CRIMINAL SEXUAL CONDUCT STATUTE ESTABLISHES ALTERNATIVE MEANS OF COMMITTING ELEMENT OF OFFENSE

A jury found Appellant guilty of first-degree criminal sexual conduct, noting in response to special verdict questions that they found he used force, coercion, and both force and coercion in the commission of the offense. The State told the jury in its closing argument that the offense required that Appellant used force or coercion and stated that the jurors did not “need to agree that there was either force or coercion.” Appellant argues that the State’s comments violated his right to a unanimous verdict, as the jury was required to unanimously agree whether the intentional act of sexual penetration was committed by force, committed by coercion, or committed by both force and coercion.

While a jury must unanimously agree that the State has proved each element of a charged offense, it need not always decide unanimously which of several possible means a defendant used to commit an offense. The court concludes that force and coercion are alternative means of completing one element of the first-degree criminal sexual conduct offense. One element required for a first-degree criminal sexual conduct conviction is “the use of force or coercion.” Minn. Stat. § 609.342, subd. 1(e)(1). The court notes that the inclusion of “or” in this section indicates an alternative. This interpretation is consistent with similarly structured statues that the court has found to present alternative means of committing an offense, as well as United States Supreme Court precedent finding it constitutionally permissible for jurors to reach a guilty verdict without unanimously specifying which overt act was the means by which a crime was committed. Thus, the State did not misstate the law in its closing argument. State v. Epps, 949 N.W.2d 474 (Minn. Ct. App. Aug. 24, 2020), review granted (Nov. 25, 2020).

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