This opinion will be unpublished and

may not be cited except as provided by

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

 

STATE OF MINNESOTA

IN COURT OF APPEALS

C3-00-1986

 

State of Minnesota,

Respondent,

 

vs.

 

Larry Dale Hanson,

Appellant.

 

Filed September 25, 2001

Affirmed

Willis, Judge

 

Kandiyohi County District Court

File No. T1001675

 

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

 

Boyd Beccue, Kandiyohi County Attorney, Tracy Perzel, Assistant County Attorney, 316 Southwest Fourth Street, Willmar, MN  56201 (for respondent)

 

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

 

            Considered and decided by Hanson, Presiding Judge, Willis, Judge, and Halbrooks, Judge.

U N P U B L I S H E D   O P I N I O N

WILLIS, Judge

Appellant challenges his conviction of obstructing legal process, arguing that (1) the district court abused its discretion in “permitting the jury to infer, and permitting the state to argue” that appellant could be convicted on the basis of his oral conduct, which we construe to be a challenge to the district court’s jury instructions; (2) the evidence is insufficient to prove that he physically obstructed a deputy from entering his barn; and (3) the district court’s instructions to the jury deprived him of his right to a unanimous jury verdict.  Because the jury instructions did not misstate the law and the evidence was sufficient to show that appellant blocked a deputy’s entrance into appellant’s barn, we affirm.

FACTS

In March 2000, Kandiyohi County sheriff’s deputies were dispatched to appellant Larry Hanson’s home in response to a report of an underage drinking party.  As they pulled into Hanson’s driveway, the deputies saw several cars parked near the barn.  Upon seeing the police cars, many of the partygoers ran from the barn, dropping cups and cans as they fled.  The deputies gathered as many of the partygoers as possible into the barn so that the deputies could conduct preliminary breath tests (PBTs) and issue citations to those who were both underage and intoxicated.

            Shortly after the deputies arrived, Hanson pulled into his driveway, where he was met by Sergeant Douglas Magnuson.  Hanson loudly told Magnuson that he and the other deputies had to leave his property immediately, that he had contacted his attorney, and that they had “no business being there.”  Hanson walked to the barn and began yelling, demanding that the deputies leave the premises.  Sergeant Magnuson told Hanson that they would leave shortly, as soon as they finished administering PBTs and issuing citations. After being given PBTs or citations, the partygoers were ordered by the deputies to leave, but they began coming back into the barn after Hanson told them that they could stay.  A deputy testified that, because of Hanson’s interruptions, the situation became difficult to control.  And amid the confusion, two youths who the deputies thought were extremely intoxicated, including Hanson’s 18-year-old son, left the barn, and the deputies were unable to issue citations to them in person.  Another deputy testified that Hanson blocked him from entering the barn, where he was going to assist with the PBTs and citations.

            Sergeant Magnuson testified that, because of Hanson’s anger and the commotion he was causing, Magnuson decided to place the remaining underage, intoxicated partygoer in custody and issue a citation to her off the premises.  Hanson’s son received a citation through the mail, and the other person who left the barn received a citation when a deputy later returned to him his wallet, which had been left at the party.

            In October 2000, a jury found Hanson guilty of obstructing legal process under Minn. Stat. § 609.50, subd. 1(2) (2000).  The district court ordered him to pay a $100 fine but stayed imposition of the sentence pending appeal.

D E C I S I O N

Hanson argues that his conviction should be reversed because of an erroneous jury instruction and insufficient evidence.  District courts possess considerable latitude in selecting the language of jury instructions.  State v. Gray, 456 N.W.2d 251, 258 (Minn. 1990).  Although the specific language of jury instructions may vary from case to case, instructions may not materially misstate the law.  State v. Pendleton, 567 N.W.2d 265, 269 (Minn. 1997).  Jury instructions are reviewed to determine whether, taken as a whole, they fairly and accurately explain the law. 

An appellate court will not disturb a verdict if the jury, acting with regard for the presumption of innocence and for the necessity of overcoming it by proof beyond a reasonable doubt, could reasonably conclude that the defendant was proved guilty of the offense charged.  State v. Alton, 432 N.W.2d 754, 756 (Minn. 1988).  Reviewing courts must assume that 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).

I.

Hanson asserts that the district court abused its discretion by permitting the jury to infer, and permitting the state to argue, that, under Minn. Stat. § 609.50 (2000), the jury could convict him of obstructing legal process on the basis of his oral conduct.  We construe Hanson’s argument to be that the district court misinterpreted Minnesota law and that the court’s misinterpretation was reflected in an erroneous jury instruction.

The district court instructed the jury that if Hanson’s “words or actions physically obstructed or interfered with” the deputies’ ability to perform their official duties, the jury could convict him of obstructing legal process.  This instruction is an adaptation of CRIMJIG 24.26.  See 10A Minnesota Practice, CRIMJIG 24.26 (1999) (providing that jury must find that defendant obstructed or interfered with performance of peace officer’s official duties). 

Under Minnesota law, it is illegal to obstruct, resist, or interfere with a police officer performing official duties.  Minn. Stat. § 609.50, subd. 1(2).  The supreme court has stated that the statute “is directed at a particular kind of physical act, namely, physically obstructing or interfering with an officer.”  State v. Krawsky, 426 N.W.2d 875, 877 (Minn. 1988).  In limited circumstances, however, the statute may also be used to punish fighting words or “any other words that by themselves have the effect of physically obstructing or interfering with a police officer in the performance of his duties.”  Id.  But the statute does not apply to mere oral criticism aimed at a police officer.  Id. at 878. 

            Hanson contends that his oral conduct did not have the effect of physically obstructing or interfering with the performance of the deputies’ duties, as required by Krawsky and its progeny.  See State v. Tomlin, 622 N.W.2d 546, 549 (Minn. 2001) (holding that false statements to police did not physically prevent or obstruct performance of official duties); State v. Patch, 594 N.W.2d 537, 539 (Minn. App. 1999) (holding that statements must be directed at police, not at third party, to constitute obstructing legal process); State v. Occhino, 572 N.W.2d 316, 321 (Minn. App. 1997) (concluding that appellant’s oral conduct obstructed legal process), review denied (Minn. Jan. 28, 1998).

            At the outset, we note that, under Patch, statements directed at a third party rather than at an officer do not constitute obstruction of legal process.  594 N.W.2d at 539.  Thus, the fact that some of the partygoers, at Hanson’s urging, did not accept their citations and refused to leave the premises is irrelevant to our determination of whether Hanson’s statements had a physical effect on the deputies’ ability to perform their official duties.

The deputies who were on the scene testified to Hanson’s mood, tone, and conduct.  Sergeant Magnuson, who appears to have had the most contact with Hanson, testified that (1) Hanson was agitated and loud during their conversations; (2) Magnuson’s objective was to keep Hanson away from the barn so that the deputies could finish what they were doing, but Hanson kept going back into the barn, yelling at the deputies and shouting obscenities; (3) his attempts to calm Hanson were futile; (4) the situation eventually escalated to the point that Magnuson thought it would be best if the deputies left; and (5) because of Hanson’s behavior, the deputies had to alter their planned course of action by leaving Hanson’s farm before citing all underage, intoxicated partygoers. 

            Deputy Todd Neumann testified that (1) the deputies’ job was to contain and control the situation; (2) after the deputies administered PBTs or issued citations to partygoers, the deputies ordered the persons to leave the premises, but Hanson told them to stay; (3) Hanson came into the barn as the deputies were issuing citations and became “loud and belligerent,” telling Neumann and the other deputies that they had to leave immediately; (4) Hanson’s behavior interfered with Neumann’s ability to perform his duties; (5) the duties performed by the deputies would normally have taken five minutes but took 45 minutes because of Hanson’s interruptions; (6) because of Hanson’s disruptive behavior, two partygoers who appeared to be extremely intoxicated were able to leave the barn, and the deputies were unable to cite them at the scene or to take one of them to the detoxification unit, as they had planned to do.

            Deputy Kent Glesne testified that, before Hanson entered the barn and began yelling at the deputies, the barn was quiet and controlled.  But after Hanson entered,

everything was in disarray.  The line that they kind of had formed earlier [to administer PBTs and citations] was, you know, everybody was just kind of all over, and they basically didn’t have any control at that time.

 

Glesne also testified that the deputies were unable to regain control once Hanson became involved and that the barn went “from a controlled environment to absolute chaos, disarray.”

            In Occhino, the defendant was convicted of obstructing legal process, based in part on his oral conduct.  572 N.W.2d at 316.  Occhino’s actions took place at the police station, where an officer was attempting to answer 911 calls and to respond to officers in the field.  This court determined that the jury could reasonably have concluded that Occhino’s “intentional” and “repeated” oral interruptions exceeded mere criticism of the officer and rose to an unlawful level such that “his words had the effect of physically interfering” with the performance of the officer’s official duties.  Id. at 320-21.  Occhino’s oral conduct, which this court described as “loud and repetitive” interruptions, was “inimical to [the officer’s] public duties.”  Id. at 320.  The facts here are analogous to those in Occhino:  Hanson’s loud, repetitive, and intentional interruptions were so disruptive that the deputies were unable to perform their official duties.  Hanson’s statements exceeded mere criticism.

            Further, the supreme court in Krawsky gave the following example of what type of oral conduct could rise to the level of physical obstruction or interference:

The statute may be used to punish a person who runs beside an officer pursuing a felon in a public street shouting and cursing at the officer if the shouting and cursing physically obstructs the officer’s pursuit and if the person intends by his conduct to obstruct or interfere with the officer.

 

Krawsky, 426 N.W.2d at 877.  Here, Hanson shouted and cursed at the deputies as they were attempting to conduct PBTs and cite underage, intoxicated partygoers, following the deputies in and out of the barn. 

In deciding the form of the jury instruction, the court said,

I don’t think that the instructions as they define the offense accurately reflect the holding in Krawsky and the subsequent holdings and interpretations by the Court of Appeals.  I think there has to be some more definite perhaps inclusion of the word physical, but I also agree with the State in that there is also language in Krawsky that indicates that the statute may be used to punish * * * words  * * * that by themselves have the effect of physically obstructing or interfering with a police officer in the performance of his duties.

 

            In light of Occhino and the supreme court’s example in Krawsky, there was a basis in Minnesota law for the jury to reasonably conclude that Hanson’s oral conduct was repeated, deliberate, and physically obstructed the deputies’ ability to perform their official duties.  Therefore, the instruction here fairly and accurately explained the law.

II.

            Hanson argues that the evidence was insufficient to convict him of physically blocking Glesne’s entrance into the barn.  In considering a claim of insufficient evidence, a reviewing court’s only inquiry is whether, on the facts in the record and the legitimate inferences to be drawn from those facts, a jury could reasonably conclude that the defendant was guilty.  State v. Bias, 419 N.W.2d 480, 484 (Minn. 1988).  The court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the verdict and assume that “the jury believed the state’s witnesses and disbelieved any contrary evidence.”  Id. (citation omitted).

Deputy Glesne testified that, as he was trying to re-enter the barn to assist the other deputies, Hanson stood in the doorway to keep Glesne from entering.  He testified that Hanson put his hand up and began yelling that Glesne had to leave.  Glesne then asked Hanson to let him into the barn, but Hanson refused.

Hanson argues that his actions in temporarily blocking Glesne from entering the barn were “ineffective and tangential” because Glesne eventually entered the barn and other deputies were already inside.  But Hanson cites no authority for the proposition that obstructing an officer, even briefly, from performing his duties is not obstruction under the statute.  And nothing in the statute suggests that conduct must continue for some minimum time to constitute obstructing legal process.

Viewing the evidence in a light most favorable to the verdict, the jury could reasonably have concluded that Hanson obstructed legal process by physically keeping Glesne from entering the barn.

III.

Hanson also asserts that, because of the jury instruction, it is impossible for a reviewing court to determine whether the jury convicted Hanson on the basis of his oral conduct or because he physically blocked the barn door, thereby depriving him of his right to a unanimous jury verdict.  See Minn. R. Crim. P. 26.01, subd. 1(5) (providing that verdicts in criminal cases must be unanimous).  When jury instructions allow for the possibility of significant disagreement among jurors as to what criminal act or acts the defendant committed, the instructions violate the defendant’s right to a unanimous verdict.  State v. Begbie, 415 N.W.2d 103, 105 (Minn. App. 1987), review denied (Minn. Jan. 20, 1988).  But “unanimity is not required with respect to the alternative means or ways in which” a defendant commits a crime.  Id. at 106 (quotation omitted); see also Schad v. Arizona, 501 U.S. 624, 633, 111 S. Ct. 2491, 2497 (1991) (holding that submission to jury of alternative theories of murder charge, without requiring jury’s agreement on a theory, was not unconstitutional); State v. Day, 501 N.W.2d 649, 653 (Minn. App. 1993) (holding that there was no violation of appellant’s right to unanimous verdict where instruction permitted jury to convict without specifying which alternate theory of guilt it applied).

Hanson relies on State v. Stempf to support his argument.  In that case, this court held that the defendant was denied his right to a unanimous jury verdict under the controlled-substance-crime statute, which makes the act of possessing a controlled substance an element of the crime.  State v. Stempf, 627 N.W.2d 352, 359 (Minn. App. 2001).  The state charged the appellant with one count of possession, while introducing evidence of two different acts of possession that, this court determined, “lack[ed] unity of time and place.”  Id. at 358-59.  This court concluded that, because the state failed to identify the act of possession on which it relied, some jurors could have convicted the defendant for one act of possession, while others might have convicted him for another act.  Id. at 359.

But Stempf is distinguishable because, in that case, there were two distinct acts--possession of drugs found at his place of business and possession of drugs found on his person--for which the jury could have convicted the appellant.  Id. at 354.  Here, there was a single incident that took place at one time and at one location:  Hanson’s oral and physical interference with the deputies.  We have already determined that the district court did not err in instructing the jury that it should consider whether Hanson’s words or actions physically obstructed or interfered with the deputies’ ability to perform their official duties.  If the jury disagreed as to whether Hanson’s obstruction of legal process was the result of actual physical conduct or words that physically obstructed the officers, the disagreement would simply involve the means by which Hanson committed the offense.  See Day, 501 N.W.2d at 653.[1]

Hanson’s right to a unanimous jury verdict was not violated because the jury could convict him on alternative theories so long as they unanimously agreed that he was guilty of obstructing legal process.

Affirmed.



[1] This court has noted that unanimity is required only with respect to the ultimate issue of a defendant’s guilt or innocence of the crime charged. Begbie, 415 N.W.2d at 105 (citation and quotation omitted).  The court noted that as long as the jurors unanimously agree on their ultimate conclusion that the defendant is guilty of the crime charged, the verdict will stand, “even though they may not agree on the manner in which the defendant participated in the crime.”  Id. at 106 (quotation omitted).