During a traffic stop, police smelled marijuana in appellant’s vehicle and Appellant admitted he had a small amount of marijuana in the car. During a search of the car, police found a substance they believed to be marijuana. A field test of the substance detected THC, but no additional tests were conducted to determine the THC concentration. Appellant was charged with fifth-degree possession, but he moved to dismiss the charge, arguing his statement that he possessed marijuana could not be used to establish probable cause to believe he possessed marijuana, as opposed to hemp, because his statement was not corroborated by testing showing that the statutory threshold concentration of THC was present. The district court granted Appellant’s motion, but the Court of Appeals reversed. The Supreme Court accepted review to answer the question of whether the State must obtain a chemical test showing that the THC concentration of suspected marijuana exceeds the legal limit to survive a motion to dismiss a marijuana possession charge for lack of probable cause. The court decides that such a test is not required in this case, because Appellant admitted the substance was marijuana and his statement did not need to be corroborated to survive a motion to dismiss at the probable cause stage. Under Minn. Stat. § 634.03, a confession alone cannot support a conviction – additional independent evidence is needed. However, this rule does not apply to a probable cause challenge. Based on the language of section 634.03 and prior case law, the court holds that a finding of probable cause can be based on an uncorroborated confession. Here, Appellant admitted the substance in his vehicle was marijuana, an admission that is direct evidence of guilt. While this admission alone would not sustain a conviction, it is enough to survive a motion to dismiss for lack of probable cause. The District Court erred when it granted Appellant’s motion to dismiss. State v. Dixon, 981. N.W.2d 387 (Minn. Nov. 9, 2022).
Appellant, a 15-year-old, was charged in juvenile court with aiding and abetting second-degree murder and first-degree aggravated robbery. The district court denied the State’s motion to certify Appellant as an adult. The Court of Appeals reversed, finding the State met its burden and certification was required.
Certification of a juvenile under the age of 16 is permissible only if the State proves “by clear and convincing evidence that retaining the proceeding in the juvenile court does not serve public safety.” Minn. Stat. § 260B.125, subd. 2(6)(ii). Six factors must be considered BY THE COURT: (1) the seriousness of the alleged offenses; (2) the culpability of the child in committing the alleged offenses; (3) the child’s prior record of delinquency; (4) the child’s programming history; (5) the adequacy of punishment or programming available in the juvenile system; and (6) the dispositional options available for the child. Id. at subd. 4. Greater weight is to be given to the first and third factors. Id. Appellant argues the Court of Appeals erred in concluding that only those mitigating factors recognized by the sentencing guidelines may be considered when analyzing the second factor (culpability). He also argues that, while factors one and three weigh in favor of certification, the remaining four factors do not and the district court properly denied the State’s motion for certification. As to the second public safety factor, the district court must consider “the culpability of the child in committing the alleged offense, including the level of the child’s participation in planning and carrying out the offense and the existence of any mitigating factors recognized by the Sentencing Guidelines." Id. at subd. 4(2). Here, the district court considered other mitigating factors, including scientific and social-scientific research, Appellant’s mental health diagnosis, and U.S. Supreme Court cases discussing child brain development. The Minnesota Supreme Court first discusses the language of section 260B.125, subd. 4(2), noting that “the context strongly suggests that the word ‘including’ is a limitation” on what may be considered by the court. This section’s legislative history and the court’s previous narrow interpretations of the public safety factors also support this interpretation. Thus, the court holds that section 260B.125, subd. 4(2), “limits a district court’s consideration of the existence of any mitigating factors under the second public safety factor to those facts enumerated after the word ‘including,’ which includes the level of the child’s participation in planning and carrying out the offense and the existence of any of the mitigating factors set forth in the sentencing guidelines, which are listed at Minn. Sent. Guidelines 2.D.3.a.” Here, the district court improperly considered other mitigating information. Looking only at the factors permitted by statute, the second public safety factor weights in favor of certification. Ultimately, the Supreme Court finds the district court abused its discretion when it determined the State had not met its burden of proving retaining Appellant in the juvenile system would not serve public safety. The court finds the first four public safety factors all favor certification, which outweigh the only two other factors weighing against certification. The Court of Appeals’ determination that the district court should have found certification was required is affirmed. Matter of Welfare of H.B., No. A20-0954, 2022 WL 16954540 (Minn. Nov. 16, 2022).
Appellant was found guilty after a court trial of one count of petty misdemeanor use of a controlled access highway as a pedestrian. The charge arose from Appellant’s participation in a group of demonstrators who walked onto I-94. Appellant appealed, arguing there is insufficient evidence to support the court’s finding of guilt. Where circumstantial evidence is used to prove an element of an offense, as in this case, a heightened standard of review applies, which requires the appellate court to determine the circumstances proved, disregarding evidence inconsistent with the verdict, and then requires the appellate court to determine whether the circumstances proved are consistent with guilt and inconsistent with any rational hypothesis other than guilt. Appellant argues the district court erred by not applying this test for circumstantial evidence before finding her guilty. However, the Court of Appeals notes that the Supreme Court has previously recognized the different roles of a fact finder at trial and the appellate court on review when it comes to how direct and circumstantial evidence is to be considered. The Court of Appeals finds that “it is clear that although an appellate court prefers direct evidence to circumstantial evidence when reviewing a determination of guilt on appeal, a fact-finder does not prefer one form of evidence over the other when determining guilt at trial.” The Court of Appeals rejects Appellant’s argument that the district court was required to apply the circumstantial evidence standard at trial, holding that this test is to be applied only by the appellate court. The Court of Appeals applies the circumstantial evidence test itself to determine if the evidence was sufficient to support the district court's finding of guilt. The court determines that the circumstances proved make it reasonable to infer that Appellant was among the group of demonstrators that walked on I-94. The court finds no reasonable inference inconsistent with guilt that can be drawn from the circumstances proved. The district court is affirmed. State v. Olson, A21-1742, 2022 WL 17086778 (Minn. Ct. App. Nov. 21, 2022).
Police saw a car and a van parked near a known drug house and saw someone inside the van injecting heroin. A baggie of suspected controlled substances was found on one occupant of the van. A search of the van revealed a backpack containing unassembled shotgun parts, as well as a prescription box and pay stub both labeled with Appellant’s name. An occupant of the van told police the backpack belonged to Appellant. The backpack contained all the parts necessary to assemble a functional shotgun, aside from the stock bolt and stock bolt washer. Appellant had a previous conviction for a crime of violence, so he was charged with unlawful possession of a firearm under Minn. Stat. § 609.165, subd. 1b(a). Appellant was found guilty after a jury trial. On appeal, Appellant argues the evidence was insufficient to sustain his conviction, because unassembled shotgun parts do not constitute a “firearm.” “Firearm" is not defined in section 609.165, subd. 1b(a), but it has been defined and interpreted in case law. In 2020, the Supreme Court held that, “a ‘firearm’ is an instrument designed for attack or defense that expels a projectile by the action or force of gunpowder, combustion or some other explosive force.” State v. Glover, 952 N.W.2d 190, 191 (Minn. 2020). The court have not previously considered whether an unassembled firearm fits this definition, but it has repeatedly found that the operability of a firearm is immaterial, because even in inoperable firearm still maintains it's apparent ability to inflict injury. Consistent with these decisions, the Court of Appeals concludes “that the potential use of an unassembled firearm is sufficient to bring such a firearm within the meaning of prohibited possession under Minn. Stat. § 609.165, subd. 1b(a), so long as it is possible to assemble the firearm.” The court points out that it cannot write an exemption for unassembled firearms into the statute where the legislature is able but has not chosen to do so. Whether a particular group of parts constitutes a “firearm” is a question the fact. Here, although two small parts were missing, it was possible to obtain those missing parts to assemble the firearm. In this case, the State proved it was possible to assemble the firearm parts into a firearm, and the district court properly instructed the jury that a firearm “[m]eans a device, whether operable or inoperable, loaded or unloaded, designed to be used as a weapon from which can be expelled the projectile by the force of any explosion or force of combustion.” Thus, the evidence was sufficient to prove the unassembled shotgun parts constituted a firearm. The court also finds that the circumstances proved in this case are consistent with the jury's finding that Appellant constructively possessed the firearm. The circumstances proved do not support any reasonable inference other than guilt, and Appellant's conviction is affirmed. State v. Stone, A21-1648, 2022 WL 17244596 (Minn. Ct. App. Nov. 28, 2022).