This opinion will be unpublished and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

C3-01-1254

 

 

State of Minnesota,

Respondent,

 

vs.

 

Gregory Joel Meyer,

Appellant.

 

Filed April 2, 2002

Affirmed

Robert H. Schumacher, Judge

 

Hennepin County District Court

File No. 01027580

 

 

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

 

David R. Ornstein, Bloomington City Attorney, Marianna Harbinson Kaul, Associate City Attorney, 2215 West Old Shakopee Road, Bloomington, MN 55431 (for respondent)

 

John M. Stuart, State Public Defender, Sharon E. Jacks, Assistant Public Defender, 2829 University Avenue Southeast, Suite 600, Minneapolis, MN 55414 (for appellant)

 

 

Considered and decided by Hanson, Presiding Judge, Schumacher, Judge, and Poritsky, Judge.*

U N P U B L I S H E D O P I N I O N

ROBERT H. SCHUMACHER, Judge

Appellant Gregory Joel Meyer challenges his conviction of first-degree driving while under the influence, arguing that the district court abused its discretion in denying his motion for a mistrial after two armed deputies entered the courtroom during closing arguments. We affirm.

FACTS

On March 30, 2001, after Officer Spencer Saari observed a vehicle swerve out of its lane of traffic several times without signaling, Saari stopped the vehicle and identified the driver as Meyer. Saari observed that Meyer's speech was slurred, his eyes were watery and bloodshot, and he smelled of alcohol. Saari had Meyer perform a series of field sobriety tests. Based on Meyer's performance, Saari arrested him for driving under the influence. Meyer was transported to the Bloomington Police Department where Officer Mark Schiebel administered an intoxilyzer test. The test showed that Meyer had a blood alcohol concentration of .11.

Meyer was charged with (1) first-degree DWI for driving under the influence of alcohol within ten years of two or more qualified prior impaired driving incidents; (2) first-degree DWI for driving with an alcohol concentration of .10 or more within ten years of two or more qualified prior impaired driving incidents; and (3) gross misdemeanor driving after cancellation.

Prior to trial, Meyer pleaded guilty to driving after cancellation. At trial during closing arguments, two armed deputies walked into the courtroom and sat down. One of the deputies took the jury to deliberate. Meyer's attorney moved for a mistrial, arguing that the presence of the deputies was prejudicial and suggestive of Meyer's guilt. The district court denied Meyer's motion for a mistrial, stating:

I don't think there was any prejudice. Whatever concern that the jury might have thought I'm sure was alleviated when I had the deputy come forward, be sworn in and take them to deliberation.

 

* * * *

 

[I]t is also standard procedure in Hennepin County that the court deputies, the Hennepin County sheriff deputies, are the ones who watch the juries. At this point, especially criminal juries, there is no debate about that.

 

Meyer was found guilty of first-degree DWI. He was sentenced to two consecutive one-year jail terms for the DWI and driving after cancellation convictions. This appeal followed.

D E C I S I O N

The decision to grant a new trial rests within the district court's discretion. State v. Landro, 504 N.W.2d 741, 745 (Minn. 1993). Appellate courts do not disturb a district court's decision on the grant or denial of a mistrial absent a clear abuse of that discretion. Halla Nursery, Inc. v. Baumann-Furrie & Co., 454 N.W.2d 905, 910 (Minn. 1990).

Both the United States and Minnesota Constitutions guarantee criminal defendants a fair trial by impartial jury. State v. Bowles, 530 N.W.2d 521, 529 (Minn. 1995) (citing U.S. Const. amend. V, VI, and XIV; Minn. Const. art. I 6). The presumption of innocence is a basic component of the fundamental right to a fair trial. Id. (citations omitted). Meyer argues that the presence of the deputies in the courtroom was suggestive of his guilt and eroded his presumption of innocence and that the district court erred in denying his motion for a mistrial.

Meyer cites for support Holbrook v. Flynn, 475 U.S. 560, 106 S. Ct. 1340 (1986), and State v. Aguilar, 352 N.W.2d 395 (Minn. 1984); his reliance is misplaced. The courtroom security force in Holbrook consisted of four uniformed state troopers, two deputy sheriffs, and six committing squad officers. The defendant focused exclusively on the prejudice he attributed to the four state troopers. Holbrook, 475 U.S. at 570, 106 S. Ct. at 1346. The United States Supreme Court stated that "reason, principle, and common human experience counsel against a presumption that any use of identifiable security guards in the courtroom is inherently prejudicial," and that "a case-by-case approach is more appropriate." Id. at 569, 106 S. Ct. at 1346 (quotation omitted).

Whenever a courtroom arrangement is challenged as inherently prejudicial, therefore, the question must be not whether jurors actually articulated a consciousness of some prejudicial effect, but rather whether an unacceptable risk is presented of impermissible factors coming into play.

 

Id. at 570, 106 S. Ct. at 1346-47 (quotation omitted). The court stated that it simply could not "find an unacceptable risk of prejudice in the spectacle of four such officers quietly sitting in the first row of a courtroom's spectator section." Id. at 571, 106 S. Ct. at 1347 (footnote omitted). The court found that four state troopers are unlikely to have been taken as a sign of anything other than a normal official concern for the safety and order of the proceedings. Id.

In Aguilar, when the defendant entered the courtroom at trial, the police, in full view of the jurors, had made defendant open her purse and remove her shoes and had frisked her. 352 N.W.2d at 396-97. The defendant argued on appeal that the security procedures ordered by the district court and carried out by the police created an atmosphere that was prejudicial to her. Id. at 396. The Minnesota Supreme Court affirmed the defendant's conviction and the district court's denial of her motion for a mistrial, concluding that the courtroom security procedures did not create an atmosphere prejudicial to the defendant. Id. at 397.

Here, the district court noted that it is standard procedure in Hennepin County for deputies to watch juries and that any concern the jury may have had was alleviated when one of the deputies was sworn and took the jury to deliberate. There was no prejudice to Meyer. We conclude that the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying Meyer's motion for a mistrial.

Affirmed.



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