This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (1998).


State of Minnesota,


Steven Rustad,

Filed February 8, 2000
Reversed and Remanded
Amundson, Judge

Kandiyohi County District Court
File No. TX-98-7036

Mike Hatch, Attorney General, 525 Park Street, Suite 500, St. Paul, MN 55103; and

Boyd Beccue, Kandiyohi County Attorney, Jeffery S. Thompson, Assistant County Attorney 316 Southwest Fourth Street, Willmar, MN 56201 (for respondent)

John E. Mack, Mack & Daby, 26 Main Street, P.O. Box 302, New London, MN 56273 (for appellant)


Considered and decided by Amundson, Presiding Judge, Kalitowski, Judge, and Harten, Judge.

U N P U B L I S H E D   O P I N I O N


Appellant challenges his conviction for failure to transfer title, in violation of Minn. Stat. § 168A.30, subd. 2 (1998). Because we conclude that appellant Steven Rustad was denied his constitutional right to a trial by jury, and that this error requires a new trial, we reverse and remand.


Appellant, Steven Rustad, was charged on October 26, 1998, with failure to transfer ownership of a trailer pursuant to Minn. Stat. § 168A.30. At his arraignment, Rustad pleaded not guilty and a court trial was scheduled for March 1, 1999. Rustad was also handed a form entitled "Misdemeanor – Statement of Rights." Rustad completed this form and signed it, requesting a continuance to consult with an attorney, demanding a formal accusation (complaint), and a jury trial.

On March 1, 1999, Rustad appeared for trial and told the court that he wanted a continuance because he had not yet received a formal complaint and, therefore, had not hired an attorney. The court denied Rustad’s request and proceeded to trial. After the state’s first witness had given his direct testimony, Rustad stated to the court:

Your Honor, before I go on I have requested a trial by jury. I understand my rights and I demanded a formal accusation that I have not received.

The district court denied Rustad’s request for a jury trial and a formal complaint, stating that because 30 days had passed since his arraignment, Rustad had plenty of time to hire an attorney and make his requests.

The trial proceeded and the court found Rustad guilty of failure to transfer title and sentenced him to a stayed jail sentence of 30 days and a fine of $500. This appeal followed.



Rustad argues that he was denied his constitutional right to a jury trial, as well as his right to counsel and to a statement of the charges against him. The state concedes that Rustad was denied his right to a trial by jury but contests his other claims, which we need not address given our disposition on the jury trial issue.

The Minnesota Constitution provides that "[i]n all criminal prosecutions the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial by an impartial jury * * *." Minn. Const. art. I, § 6. Rustad was charged with failure to transfer title, which is a misdemeanor. Minn. Stat. § 168A.30, subd. 2 (1998).

A misdemeanor is defined as a crime under Minn. Stat. § 609.02, subd. 3 (1998). Minnesota has extended the constitutional protections afforded criminal defendants under our state constitution to those charged with offenses punishable by incarceration. See State v. Hoben, 256 Minn. 436, 438-39, 98 N.W.2d 813, 815-16 (1959) (involving trial by jury and other protections; State v. Borst, 278 Minn. 388, 397, 154 N.W.2d 888, 894 (1967) (right to counsel). The rules of criminal procedure reflect the distinction between offenses punishable and not punishable by incarceration. See Minn. R. Crim. P. 26.01, subd. 1(1)(a) (providing that "[a] defendant shall be entitled to a jury trial in any prosecution for an offense punishable by incarceration"). A misdemeanor is punishable by up to 90 days in jail. Minn. Stat. § 609.02, subd. 3 (1998).

A defendant may waive his right to a jury trial, but such a waiver must be done in writing or orally on the record. Minn. R. Crim. P. 26.01(1)(2)(a). Although Rustad may have known that he was appearing for a court trial on March 1, 1999, he had demanded a jury trial in his "Statement of Rights," and requested a continuance when he appeared on March 1, 1999, before demanding a jury trial in the middle of the state’s case. The record establishes that Rustad explicitly requested, and never waived, a jury trial.


The state concedes that Rustad was denied his right to a jury trial, but initially contended that the denial of the right to a jury trial was harmless error. We disagree.

Harmless-error analysis applies to many errors of constitutional dimension, but not to "structural defects" that affect the "framework within which the trial proceeds." Arizona v. Fulminante, 499 U.S. 279, 310, 111 S. Ct. 1246, 1265 (1991) (Rehnquist, C.J., dissenting in part). Harmless error does not apply to the total deprivation of the right to counsel at trial. Id. And, harmless error has also been held inapplicable to certain errors involving the composition of the jury. See State v. Logan, 535 N.W.2d 320, 324 (Minn. 1995) (holding that harmless error did not apply to failure to dismiss for cause juror who demonstrated bias in voir dire); State v. McRae, 494 N.W.2d 252, 260 (Minn. 1992) (noting that harmless error does not apply to racial discrimination in selection of the jury). These holdings, given a total deprivation of the right to a jury trial can hardly be subjected to harmless-error analysis. Moreover, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals has held that counsel’s failure to inform the defendant of his right to a jury trial is not subject to harmless-error analysis. McGurk v. Stenberg, 163 F.3d 470, 474 (8th Cir. 1998). We hold that a total deprivation of the right to be tried by a jury requires automatic reversal.

Reversed and remanded.