SPEEDY TRIAL: NEITHER STATE NOR DEFENDANT ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR DELAY CAUSED BY COVID-19

Appellant was charged in March 2020 with a felony violation of a DANCO. That same month, the Minnesota Supreme Court prohibited the commencement of new jury trials due to COVID-19. Trials could commence after July 6, once the court had submitted and received approval of a safety plan. Appellant demanded a speedy trial in May, and trial was scheduled for July 6. However, the trial was delayed until August 3, 77 days after the speedy trial demand, because a COVID safety plan had not yet been approved. Trial began on August 3, after which a jury found Appellant guilty. He appealed, arguing his speedy trial right was violated.

The Court of Appeals finds no violation of Appellant’s Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial. The delay in this case of greater than 60 days raises the presumption that a violation occurred. However, the Court of Appeals notes that the cause of the delay was solely the COVID-19 pandemic. An earlier trial would not have been safe, and the delay was not a deliberate attempt by the State to hamper the defense. Appellant asserted his speedy trial demand throughout the proceedings, but all parties were aware that a safe trial could not occur within the 60-day speedy trial period. Finally, because Appellant was already in custody for other unrelated offenses, he was not prejudiced by the delay. Appellant’s conviction is affirmed. State v. Jackson, A21-0126, N.W.2d , 2021 WL 5173146 (Minn. Ct. App. Nov. 8, 2021).

EVIDENCE: A CONFESSION MUST BE CORROBORATED BY INDEPENDENT EVIDENCE REASONABLY TENDING TO PROVE THAT THE OFFENSE WAS COMMITTED

Appellant as charged with criminal sexual conduct involving his 13-year-old stepdaughter, C.D. In an interview with police, Appellant confessed to sexually abusing C.D., specifically admitting to four incidents, including an act of sexual abuse that occurred while Appellant and C.D. were deer scouting. A jury found Appellant guilty of five counts of criminal sexual conduct. The Minnesota Court of Appeals reversed Appellant’s conviction on the count relating to the deer scouting incident. At trial, evidence of Appellant’s confession to this incident was introduced, but his confession was not corroborated with other evidence.

Minn. Stat. § 634.03 provides, in relevant part, that “[a] confession of the defendant shall not be sufficient to warrant conviction without evidence that the offense charged has been committed…” The Supreme Court considers the meaning of the phrase “evidence that the offense charged has been committed.” The court finds section 634.03 is not ambiguous, and that its plain language “requires the State to present evidence independent of a confession that reasonably tends to prove that the specific crime charged in the complaint actually occurred in order to sustain the defendant’s conviction.”

As to the “deer scouting incident” in this case, the charge was based solely on Appellant’s confession during a police interview. The State argues that three pieces of evidence corroborate Appellant’s confession: C.D.’s testimony regarding other sexual assaults by Appellant, C.D.’s testimony about Appellant’s sexual assault during duck season, and the general lack of coercion surrounding Appellant’s confession. The court finds this evidence insufficient. Section 634.03’s corroboration requirement cannot be fulfilled simply by introducing evidence of other offenses, especially other offenses that differ significantly in detail. The court also holds that lack of coercion in obtaining a confession is not independent evidence that the charged offense was committed. The Court of Appeals’ reversal of Appellant’s conviction for the deer scouting incident is affirmed. State v. Holl, A19-1464, 966 N.W.2d 803 (Minn. Nov. 17, 2021).

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