This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (1998).
IN COURT OF APPEALS
State of Minnesota,
LaMonte L. Gross,
Filed September 5, 2000
Ramsey County District Court
File No. K8-99-1681
Mike Hatch, Attorney General, 525 Park Street, Suite 500, St. Paul, MN 55103; and
Susan Gaertner, Ramsey County Attorney, Mark Nathan Lystig, Assistant County Attorney, 50 Kellogg Boulevard West, Suite 315, St. Paul, MN 55102 (for respondent)
John M. Stuart, State Public Defender, Mark F. Anderson, Assistant Public Defender, 2829 University Avenue S. E., Suite 600, Minneapolis, MN 55414 (for appellant)
Considered and decided by Shumaker, Presiding Judge, Schumacher, Judge, and Harten, Judge.
Appellant claims that the evidence was insufficient to support his conviction for Possession of a Pistol by an Ineligible Person, and that the trial court erred in imposing a consecutive sentence. We affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand.
Police Sergeant Tyrone Strickland was on patrol in the area of a street party when he saw Terrance Stokes leaning into the open door of a parked car and folding something. When Stokes noticed Strickland, he shut the door and began to walk away quickly. Strickland stopped Stokes and asked him what he was doing in the car. Stokes said he was not doing anything and he gave Strickland permission to search the car.
Strickland noticed a towel on the front seat. When he lifted it up, several rounds of .357 caliber ammunition fell out.
Then appellant LaMonte Lee Gross came to the car and told Strickland the car was his. He gave Strickland permission to search the car. Strickland searched and found a loaded .25 caliber handgun in the engine compartment.
Gross is a convicted felon and is ineligible to possess a firearm. The state charged him with Possession of a Pistol by an Ineligible Person.
At trial, Gross contended that he did not know the pistol was in his car and that someone else must have put it there. The state offered no direct evidence that Gross knew the pistol was in his car. There were no identifiable fingerprints on the gun.
Torrance Green testified that he sold the car to Gross and that there was no pistol in it at the time of sale.
The jury found Gross guilty. Gross was on probation for aggravated robbery at the time of this conviction. The trial judge imposed the mandatory 60‑month sentence for the gun offense and ordered that the sentence be served consecutively to the prior sentence. Appellant challenges the sufficiency of the evidence to support his conviction and the court’s imposition of a consecutive sentence. Appellant and respondent agree that the gun sentence was by law presumptively to be concurrent with the robbery sentence, and both parties agree that the court committed reversible error by departing from the presumptive sentence without appropriate findings.
D E C I S I O N
In reviewing the sufficiency of the evidence, we are limited to a painstaking analysis of the record to determine whether the evidence, when viewed in the light most favorable to the conviction, was sufficient to allow the jurors to reach their verdict. State v. Webb, 440 N.W.2d 426, 430 (Minn. 1989). We assume the jury believed the state's witnesses and disbelieved any evidence to the contrary. State v. Moore, 438 N.W.2d 101, 108 (Minn. 1989). We will not disturb the verdict if the jury, acting with due regard for the presumption of innocence and the requirement of proof beyond a reasonable doubt, could reasonably conclude the defendant was guilty of the charged offense. State v. Alton, 432 N.W.2d 754, 756 (Minn. 1988).
Gross's conviction was based on circumstantial evidence. Circumstantial evidence is entitled to the same weight as other evidence. State v. Ashby, 567 N.W.2d 21, 27 (Minn. 1997). But a conviction based entirely on circumstantial evidence merits stricter scrutiny than convictions based in part on direct evidence. State v. Jones, 516 N.W.2d 545, 549 (Minn. 1994).
To sustain a conviction, circumstantial evidence must
form “a complete chain which, in light of the evidence as a whole, leads so directly to the guilt of the accused as to exclude, beyond a reasonable doubt, any reasonable inference other than that of guilt.”
State v. Bias, 419 N.W.2d 480, 484 (Minn. 1988) (citation omitted). Gross argued that the chain, as presented, did not lead directly and exclusively to the conclusion of guilt. A jury, however, is in the best position to evaluate circumstantial evidence, and its verdict is entitled to deference. Webb, 440 N.W.2d at 430.
The state proved that Gross owned the car and had taken possession of it over two months prior to the offense. The previous owner testified that there was no gun in the car when he transferred it to Gross. There was no evidence that anyone other than Gross possessed the car after its transfer.
While "[c]ircumstantial evidence must be consistent with the hypothesis that the defendant is guilty and inconsistent with any other rational hypothesis other than guilt," State v. Thomas, 590 N.W.2d 755, 758, (Minn. 1999), the state need not present evidence that excludes all possibility that another person committed the crime; it need only make such other theories appear unreasonable. See State v. Anderson, 379 N.W.2d 70, 78 (Minn. 1985) (holding evidence "need not exclude all possibility [that another person committed the murder]. It must, however, make that theory seem unreasonable."), cert. denied sub nom. Anderson v. Minnesota, 467 U.S. 1141, 106 S. Ct. 2248 (1986).
Although it is possible that someone else might have stored his gun in Gross's car without Gross's knowledge, the jury could properly conclude that such a possibility was not a reasonable likelihood, and that the only rational hypothesis was that the gun belonged to Gross and that he had hidden it in the engine compartment.
Gross argues that he would not have given the police permission to search the car had he known it contained a gun that he could not lawfully possess. However, the jury might have reasonably believed that Gross did not expect the police to look into the engine compartment.
The circumstantial evidence was sufficient to support Gross's conviction.
The trial court imposed consecutive sentencing because it wanted a longer probation period for Gross. The state and Gross agree that this was reversible error. See Williams v. State, 361 N.W.2d 840, 844 (Minn. 1985) (where the sentencing court makes no findings showing compelling reasons for a departure from the guidelines, the sentence will be reversed). We remand for resentencing.
Affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded.