This opinion will be unpublished and

may not be cited except as provided by

Minn. Stat. 480A.08, subd. 3 (2000).








State of Minnesota,





Joseph Thomas Svec,




Filed June 26, 2001


Schumacher, Judge


Ramsey County District Court

File No. K800571


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


Clayton M. Robinson, Jr., St. Paul City Attorney, Ivars P. Krievans, Assistant City Attorney, 15 West Kellogg Boulevard, Suite 500, St. Paul, MN 55102 (for respondent)


John M. Stuart, State Public Defender, Leslie J. Rosenberg, Assistant Public Defender, 2829 University Avenue Southeast, Suite 600, Minneapolis, MN 55414-3230 (for appellant)



Considered and decided by Schumacher, Presiding Judge, Anderson, G. Barry, Judge, and Parker, Judge.*



Appellant Joseph Thomas Svec challenges his convictions for driving under the influence, driving after cancellation and leaving the scene of an accident, arguing insufficient evidence and error in denial of substitute counsel. We affirm.


At approximately 1:30 p.m. on January 22, 2000, a St. Paul police officer saw a van strike the rear end of another car. The officer made eye contact with the driver of the van, who did not stop at the scene. The officer broadcast a description of the driver, vehicle and license plate number. Other officers learned from a computer license plate check that the van was registered to Svec and went to his address. They saw a van matching the broadcast description behind the house. Keys to the van were found on Svec, who appeared to be under the influence of alcohol and was arrested.

At trial, the officer who witnessed the accident testified that she had broadcast a description of the driver and the van based on her observations. The description of the driver was an older, white male. Svec testified that he had been drinking at three different bars with a female and that she had been driving the van at the time of the accident. During the trial, Svec twice asked to fire his public defender so he could hire private counsel. The trial court denied his requests as untimely and without grounds. The jury convicted Svec of five misdemeanors.


1. Svec first argues that the evidence was insufficient as a matter of law to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he was driving the van at the time of the accident. When faced with a sufficiency of the evidence claim, this court views the evidence in the light most favorable to the verdict and assumes that the jury disbelieved any testimony that conflicts with the verdict. State v. Pederson, 614 N.W.2d 724, 731 (Minn. 2000).We will not disturb a verdict if the jury, acting with due regard for the presumption of innocence and the necessity of overcoming it by proof beyond a reasonable doubt, could reasonably conclude that a defendant was proven guilty of the offense charged. State v. Richardson, 393 N.W.2d 657, 661 (Minn. 1986).

Here, the officer who saw the accident testified at trial that after the crash she concentrated on the driver of the van and that her ability to observe who was driving was not obstructed. She then broadcast a description of the van, including its license plate number, and its driver, stating the driver was an older, white male. Based upon the broadcast description, officers arrested Svec. Svec argues that the officer's testimony is unreliable.

Resolution of this case turns on the credibility of individual witnesses. Questions as to the credibility and weight to be given to testimony of individual witnesses are exclusively for the jury. State v. Bias, 419 N.W.2d 480, 484 (Minn. 1988). We must assume that the jury believed the state's witnesses and disbelieved Svec's testimony. See State v. Steinbuch, 514 N.W.2d 793, 799 (Minn. 1994). The jury is under no obligation to believe a defendant's story. State v. Ostrem, 535 N.W.2d 916, 923 (Minn. 1995). Here, the testimony of the state's witnesses, including an officer who witnessed the accident, allowed the jury to reasonably conclude that Svec was driving his van.

2. Svec argues that the trial court abused its discretion by denying his requests during trial for a continuance to allow substitute counsel. Whether to grant a continuance so as to permit substitution of counsel is within the trial court's discretion, based on all facts and circumstances surrounding the request. State v. Worthy, 583 N.W.2d 270, 278 (Minn. 1998). Here, Svec was represented by a public defender from the time of arraignment and through presentation of the state's case at trial. Svec raised the issue of substitution of counsel at the close of the state's case-in-chief. He apparently disagreed with his counsel's decision to keep his prior driving record from the jury, and he thought that his counsel had not asked questions of the witness that he felt should have been asked. Such disagreements with counsel about trial strategy do not constitute exceptional circumstances supporting the engagement of substitute counsel. See id. at 279. Accordingly, the trial court's denial of his request was not an abuse of discretion.


* Retired judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals, serving by appointment pursuant to Minn. Const. art. VI, 10.