This opinion will be unpublished and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
Rustin Kent Hartland,
Filed November 21, 2000
Amy Klobuchar, Hennepin County Attorney, Gayle C. Hendley, C-2000 Government Center, Minneapolis, MN 55487 (for respondent)
John M. Stuart, State Public Defender, Marie L. Wolf, Assistant Public Defender, 2829 University Avenue Southeast, Suite 600, Minneapolis, MN 55414 (for appellant)
U N P U B L I S H E D O P I N I O N
Appellant Rustin Kent Hartland challenges his conviction for felony possession of a firearm, arguing prosecutorial misconduct entitles him to a new trial. We affirm.
On March 26, 1999, after a fight at the Schooner Tavern, the bar's security manager flagged down a Minneapolis police car and told the officers there were "guys" with guns outside the bar. One of the officers chased Hartland, who was pointed out by the security manager, and saw him drop a shiny object between a fence and a tree. Hartland was arrested, and a shotgun was recovered from the area where Hartland had dropped the shiny object. The complaint charged Hartland, who was prohibited from possessing guns, with felony possession of a firearm.
Hartland stipulated that he was not entitled to possess a firearm, leaving the state to prove knowing possession at trial. During closing argument the prosecutor stated
* * * I think from the facts it can be inferred that he intended to get revenge for the fight in the bar, and whether he just intended to scare someone with it or whether he intended to shoot at someone in that crowded bar, thank goodness we'll never know.
Defense counsel objected and moved for a mistrial based on the statement. The trial court denied the motion for mistrial, stating that the argument was proper, not an attempt to influence with passion, and well within acceptable closing arguments. Hartland appeals.
To succeed on a claim of prosecutorial misconduct, a defendant must show that "misconduct occurred and that the misconduct was prejudicial." State v. Voorhees, 596 N.W.2d 241, 253 (Minn. 1999) (citation omitted). The decision to grant or deny a mistrial on the basis of prosecutorial misconduct generally lies in the sound discretion of the trial court. Id. On appeal, we will reverse only if the misconduct is "'so serious and prejudicial that a defendant's right to a fair trial is denied.'" Id. (quotation omitted).
Hartland argues that the prosecutor's comment about his intended use of the gun denied him a fair trial by injecting an irrelevant issue that inflamed the passions of the jury. The prosecutor's closing arguments must not "distract the jury from its proper role of deciding whether the state has met its burden." State v. Ashby, 567 N.W.2d 21, 27 (Minn. 1997) (citation omitted). But the prosecutor's argument "must be taken as a whole to determine if it provides a basis for reversal." State v. Daniels, 332 N.W.2d 172, 180 (Minn. 1983). There is less likelihood of error where potentially inappropriate remarks are brief and isolated. State v. Glaze, 452 N.W.2d 655, 662 (Minn. 1990). Here, Hartland complains about a brief six-line statement made in the context of a six-page closing argument.
Prosecutorial misconduct warrants a new trial only when "the misconduct, viewed in light of the entire record, is of such serious and prejudicial nature that appellant's constitutional right to a fair trial was impaired." State v. Robinson, 604 N.W.2d 355, 361 (Minn. 2000) (citations omitted). The trial court is in the best position to appraise the effect of the misconduct on the trial. State v. Scruggs, 421 N.W.2d 707, 716 (Minn. 1988). Even if the prosecutor's statement could be construed as misconduct, viewing the record as a whole, we cannot say that the statement impaired Hartland's constitutional right to a fair trial. There was no abuse of discretion in denying the motion for a mistrial.