This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (1998).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
State of Minnesota,
Tasha Rose LaRose,
Filed March 21, 2000
Reversed and remanded
Cass County District Court
File No. TX-99-765
Mike Hatch, Attorney General, 525 Park Street, Suite 500, St. Paul, MN 55103; and
Earl E. Maus, Cass County Attorney, Karlene F. Melhus, Assistant County Attorney, Cass County Courthouse, P.O. Box 3000, Walker, MN 56484 (for respondent)
John M. Stuart, State Public Defender, Susan K. Maki, Assistant State Public Defender, 2829 University Avenue Southeast, Suite 600, Minneapolis, MN 55414 (for appellant)
Considered and decided by Randall, Presiding Judge, Toussaint, Chief Judge, and Huspeni, Judge.*
U N P U B L I S H E D O P I N I O N
Appellant challenges her conviction of obstructing legal process, asserting (a) the district court erred by failing to obtain a valid waiver of appellant's right to a jury trial; (b) the evidence was insufficient to support her conviction; and (c) the state lacks jurisdiction over the offense because she is a Native American, who was driving on an Indian reservation, and the officer attempted to stop her vehicle for motor-vehicle and traffic violations over which the state does not have jurisdiction. We reverse and remand for a new trial on the issue of waiver of a jury trial. We affirm on the other issues.
On March 4, 1999, a Cass County police officer, Justin Miller, observed a car being driven without current registration and with a broken taillight and burned-out headlight. Miller activated his flashing lights and siren. Appellant Tasha LaRose, the driver of the vehicle, did not exceed the speed limit but continued driving for three to five miles until she reached her mother's home. When they arrived at LaRose's mother's home, LaRose and a passenger exited the vehicle and began walking. Miller then drew his weapon and ordered them to the ground. Both complied with his order.
LaRose was charged with obstructing legal process. She was convicted of the charged offense after a bench trial on stipulated facts and received a 30-day sentence and $200 fine. The fine and 20 days of her sentence were stayed. LaRose now challenges her conviction.
D E C I S I O N
I. Sufficiency of the Evidence
When an appellant challenges the sufficiency of the evidence, the reviewing court "views the evidence in the light most favorable to the verdict and assumes that the fact finder disbelieved any testimony conflicting with the result reached." State v. Thomas, 590 N.W.2d 755, 757 (Minn. 1999) (citations omitted). The verdict will not be overturned if, giving due regard to the presumption of innocence and to the prosecution's burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, the fact-finder could reasonably have found the defendant guilty of the charged offense. Id. at 758-58.
LaRose asserts that her conduct did not constitute obstruction of legal process. LaRose argues that she merely decided to drive to a safe place before stopping her car. She notes that she did eventually stop and did not resist arrest.
Obstructing legal process includes the intentional obstruction, hindrance, or prevention of "the lawful execution of any legal process" and the intentional obstruction, resistance, or interference "with a peace officer while the officer is engaged in the performance of official duties." Minn. Stat. § 609.50, subd. 1(1), (2) (1998).
Officer Miller testified that LaRose did not exceed the speed limit while he was attempting to get her to stop, but he noted that one of the vehicle's occupants waved at him through the back window. Miller stated in his report that when LaRose stopped the vehicle, LaRose's mother was outside waving to the vehicle's occupants to come inside. According to Miller, LaRose and another occupant jumped out of the vehicle and started walking. They stopped after Miller drew his weapon and ordered them to the ground. LaRose later informed him that "she will never stop for law enforcement until she is ready and wants to."
The record facts easily support the district court's conclusion that LaRose obstructed legal process. Although LaRose did not speed, her failure to stop her vehicle when a police officer activated both lights and siren supports the district court's finding that she intentionally obstructed, hindered, resisted, and interfered with Officer Miller's attempt to stop her vehicle for motor-vehicle and traffic violations.
Jurisdictional questions are reviewed de novo on appeal. State v. Stone, 557 N.W.2d 588, 590 (Minn. App. 1996), aff'd, 572 N.W.2d 725 (Minn. 1997).
LaRose contends that even if her conduct constituted obstruction of legal process, Officer Miller was not acting lawfully when he attempted to stop her vehicle, and, therefore, the state did not have subject matter jurisdiction over the charged offense. She asserts that Miller was not acting lawfully because he was attempting to stop her vehicle for traffic/motor-vehicle violations over which the state does not have jurisdiction because LaRose is a Native American and was driving on the reservation. See State v. Stone, 572 N.W.2d 725, 731 (Minn. 1997) (holding state lacks jurisdiction to enforce certain traffic/motor vehicle laws against Native Americans within reservation).
At trial, the state did not claim jurisdiction over LaRose for equipment violations (i.e., driving with a burned-out headlight and broken taillight) or for her violation of Minn. Stat. § 168.09, subd. 1 (1998), which prohibits driving a vehicle without current registration. LaRose was not charged or convicted of those offenses, but was charged and convicted of obstructing legal process.
The supreme court recently emphasized that law enforcement need not determine at the scene of a traffic stop whether the state has jurisdiction over an alleged offense. State v. Johnson, 598 N.W.2d 680, 684 (Minn. 1999) ("[A] determination of jurisdiction need not be made at that time."). If an officer need not determine jurisdiction at the scene of a traffic stop, an officer cannot be required to establish the existence of subject matter jurisdiction before making the stop. Officer Miller acted lawfully by attempting to stop LaRose's vehicle for traffic/motor-vehicle offenses.
We also note that obstructing legal process is a criminal offense over which the state has jurisdiction. See State v. Robinson, 572 N.W.2d 720, 722 (Minn. 1997) (recognizing Minnesota has jurisdiction to enforce law against Native American within reservation if law is criminal/prohibitory). Obstructing legal process is an offense prohibited under Minnesota's Criminal Code. See Minn. Stat. §§ 609.01 (stating chapter 609 constitutes criminal code); 609.50 (1998) (prohibiting obstruction of legal process). Both the broad conduct (violating the criminal code) and the narrow conduct (obstructing legal process) here are generally prohibited. We conclude that the offense is criminal/prohibitory. See Stone, 572 N.W.2d at 730 (stating focus is on broad conduct unless narrow conduct presents substantially greater public-policy concerns and emphasizing if conduct is generally prohibited, law is criminal/prohibitory).
III. Waiver of Jury Trial
LaRose argues that her conviction should be reversed because she did not personally waive her right to a jury trial. We agree.
Pursuant to Minn. R. Crim. P. 26.01, subd. 1(2)(a), a defendant may waive a jury trial if the defendant personally makes such a waiver in writing or orally in open court. A case may be submitted and tried by the court on stipulated facts if before so proceeding, the defendant acknowledges and waives
the rights to testify at trial, to have the prosecution witnesses testify in open court in the defendant's presence, to question those prosecution witnesses, and to require any favorable witnesses to testify for the defense in court. The agreement and the waiver shall be in writing or orally on the record.
Minn. R. Crim. P. 26.01, subd. 3. Interpretation of the rules of criminal procedure is a question of law reviewed de novo on appeal. State v. Nerz, 587 N.W.2d 23, 24-25 (Minn. 1998).
In State v. Balduc, 514 N.W.2d 607, 611 (Minn. App. 1994), the defendant asserted on appeal that a Lothenbach stipulation to proceed in a bench trial on stipulated facts was invalid because he did not personally waive his right to a jury trial. This court agreed and concluded:
Because no personal waiver by Balduc appears on the record, we must remand to allow him either to personally waive his right to a jury trial, or to exercise his right to be tried by a jury in the event of retrial.
Similarly, in State v. Sandmoen, 390 N.W.2d 419, 423 (Minn. App. 1986), where the defendant was convicted after a Lothenbach stipulation, this court held that although the defendant was present during the purported waiver of his right to a jury trial by his attorney, the court should have addressed the defendant directly and ensured that he agreed. This court further recognized in Sandmoen that the Lothenbach procedure was not intended to conflict with the Minn. R. Crim. P. 26.01, subd. 1(2)(a), requirement that a defendant waive the right to a jury trial. Id.; see State v. Lothenbach, 296 N.W.2d 854, 857 (Minn. 1980) (stating procedure required defendant to "enter a plea of not guilty, waive his right to a jury trial, and then stipulate to the prosecution's case").
In both Balduc and Sandmoen, this court refused to extend the supreme court's holding in State v. Ford, 276 N.W.2d 178, 183 (Minn. 1979), wherein the supreme court concluded that where a defendant was present when his counsel stated that the defendant wished to have the court rather than a jury decide whether the entrapment defense applied, there was a valid waiver of the defendant's right to a jury trial on that particular issue.
In this case, LaRose's attorney stated that LaRose agreed to proceed on stipulated facts. Specifically, LaRose's attorney stated:
For procedural purposes and to preserve Ms. LaRose's right to appeal the verdict in this matter, we would stipulate to the facts that are on record arising from the pretrial hearing that was held[.] * * * And I guess we'd leave it to the Court to make a determination regarding guilt.
The prosecutor agreed, and the court immediately found LaRose guilty. After the court adjudicated guilt and began considering sentencing, the following questioning took place:
Court: Ms. LaRose, anything you wish to say?
Defense Attorney: You understand what's going on?
Court: All right.
At no time was LaRose asked by the court or either attorney whether she agreed to waive her right to a jury trial and proceed to a bench trial on stipulated facts (it is probably true, that if the Lothenbach procedure had been fully explained to her and its benefits to her pointed out, that she would have waived her right to a jury trial – but that is not a question we have to answer). Further, she did not file a written waiver of her rights. Although LaRose did not object when her attorney stated that she wished to proceed on stipulated facts, Minn. R. Crim. P. 26.01, subd. 1(2)(a), requires a personal waiver of the right to a jury trial. We conclude, that on the sensitive issue of waiver of right to a jury trial, even when in the benign setting of making a record for a Lothenbach hearing, it is better to err on the side of caution. Defense counsel, prosecutor, and the district court judge should always take the time to place the defendant's waiver of rights into the record step by step.
We note that the questioning and LaRose's responses after the judge found her guilty were in the sentencing context. Thus, those questions do not demonstrate a clear personal waiver of her right to a jury trial. Reluctantly, we reverse and remand this case for further proceedings. The defendant's waiver of her right to a jury trial, as evidenced by the record, did not meet the needed threshold.
Reversed and remanded.
* Retired judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals, serving by appointment pursuant to Minn. Const. art. VI, § 10.
 State v. Lothenbach, 296 N.W.2d 854, 857 (Minn. 1980), recognized that a defendant may avoid a trial and preserve the right to appeal by pleading not guilty, waiving the right to a jury trial, and stipulating to the state's case.