This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2000).
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Hennepin County District Court
File No. 00072604
Mike Hatch, Attorney General, Suite 500, 525 Park Street, St. Paul, MN 55103; and
Amy Klobuchar, Hennepin County Attorney, Elizabeth V. Cutter, Assistant County Attorney, C-2000 Government Center, Minneapolis, MN 55487 (for respondent)
John M. Stuart, Minnesota Public Defender, Lawrence W. Pry, Assistant Public Defender, Suite 600, 2829 University Avenue Southeast, Minneapolis, MN 55414 (for appellant)
Considered and decided by Stoneburner, Presiding Judge, Harten, Judge, and Anderson, Judge.
Appellant Arthur Lee Paine challenges his conviction of unlawful possession of a firearm in violation of Minn. Stat. § 624.713, subd. 1(b) (1998). He argues that the evidence is insufficient to support his conviction. Because the evidence reasonably supports the jury’s verdict, we affirm.
Brooklyn Center Police Officer John Rayl was dispatched to an apartment complex based on a complaint by the property manager that trespassers were in one of the one-bedroom apartments. Officer Rayl spoke to the property manager, who said that appellant Arthur Lee Paine had agreed to meet with the property manager later that day. The property manager agreed to contact the police when Paine arrived for the meeting. Officer Rayl and another officer returned to the complex while Paine was meeting with the property manager. Rayl, the other officer, the property manager, and Paine went to the apartment. The police found three individuals inside the apartment. Because none of these people was listed on the apartment lease, all were told to leave. The officer’s report listed Paine’s address as the address of the apartment, and Paine, who had also been told to leave, stayed behind and asked when he could get his “stuff” out of the apartment. Officer Rayl informed Paine that he could not take anything out of the apartment because Paine was not listed on the lease. According to Officer Rayl, Paine appeared nervous, was talking faster then he had been on the way to the apartment and “his eyes were moving around quite a bit.” The lessee of the apartment had not been in contact with the manager for some time and was behind in rent payments.
After the trespassers left the apartment, the officers searched the apartment to ensure that no one remained inside. The officers found a loaded AK-47 assault rifle under the bed.
The assault rifle was sent to the Hennepin County Crime Lab to be tested for the fingerprints of Paine and two of the others who had been in the apartment. All three individuals were prohibited from possessing a firearm. The gun had one latent fingerprint, which belonged to Paine. The crime-laboratory technician testified that he found a fingerprint of Paine’s right middle finger on the receiver of the weapon, which is part of the mechanism that fires the weapon.
On August 17, 2000, the state charged Paine with being a felon in possession of a firearm in violation of Minn. Stat. § 624.713, subd. 1(b), which prohibits a person who has previously been convicted of a crime of violence from possessing a firearm for ten years. The parties stipulated at trial that Paine was a person who was legally prohibited from possessing a firearm. Paine did not testify at trial. The jury convicted Paine, and he was sentenced to the mandatory minimum sentence of 60 months (five years). Paine appeals the conviction, alleging the evidence was insufficient to support a conviction.
When evaluating a claim of insufficient evidence, an appellate court’s review is limited to a careful analysis of the record to determine if the evidence, when viewed in the light most favorable to the conviction, was sufficient to support the conviction. State v. Webb, 440 N.W.2d 426, 430 (Minn. 1989). A reviewing court must “assume that the jury believed the state’s witnesses and disbelieved any contrary evidence.” State v. McKenzie, 511 N.W.2d 14, 17 (Minn. 1994) (citation omitted). Consequently, this court 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 that Paine was guilty of the charged offense. State v. Alton, 432 N.W.2d 754, 756 (Minn. 1988).
The state must establish either actual or constructive possession of a firearm by an ineligible person in order to obtain a conviction under Minn. Stat. § 624.713. State v. Loyd, 321 N.W.2d 901, 902 (Minn. 1982); State v. Smith, 619 N.W.2d 766, 770 (Minn. App. 2000), review denied (Minn. Jan. 16, 2001). The constructive-possession doctrine
permits a conviction where the state cannot prove actual possession, but the inference is strong that the defendant physically possessed the item at one time and did not abandon his possessory interest in it.
Smith,619 N.W.2d at 770 (citation omitted).
To prove constructive possession, the state must prove that (1) the police found the item in a place under the defendant’s exclusive control to which other people did not normally have access, or (2) if the police found it in a place to which others had access, that there is a strong probability, inferable from the evidence, that the defendant was, at the time, consciously exercising dominion and control over it. State v. Florine, 303 Minn. 103, 105, 226 N.W.2d 609, 611 (1975).
Paine argues that the evidence does not support his conviction of unlawful possession of a firearm because the state failed to prove that he consciously exercised dominion and control over the gun. We disagree.
“[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) (citations omitted). Although circumstantial evidence warrants stricter scrutiny, it is nevertheless “entitled to the same weight as direct evidence.” State v. Bauer, 598 N.W.2d 352, 370 (Minn. 1999) (citation omitted). A jury, however, is in the best position to examine circumstantial evidence, and its verdict is entitled to due deference. Webb, 440 N.W.2d at 430.
Paine argues that his fingerprint on the receiver of the gun is insufficient evidence to support a conviction under Minn. Stat. § 624.713, subd. 1(b). But there is evidence in addition to the fingerprint to support the conviction. This court considers the totality of the circumstances in determining whether the evidence was sufficient to prove possession. See State v. Munoz, 385 N.W.2d 373, 376-77 (Minn. App. 1986) (noting that the “totality of the circumstances” indicated that the state met its burden of proving that appellant exercised dominion and control over the methamphetamine at the time the police stopped him). Paine arranged to meet with the property manager on the day the police discovered the gun. Paine’s address is the address of the apartment. Paine was nervous when he was in the apartment with the officers. Paine stayed behind after the others left to ask when he could remove his “stuff.” No one else asked about property in the apartment. All of these factors support the inference that Paine exercised dominion and control over the apartment and the property in it. The fact that others may have had access to the gun does not mean that Paine did not possess the gun. See Smith, 619 N.W.2d at 770 (recognizing that “constructive possession need not be exclusive, but may be shared”).
Paine also argues that the state failed to prove that he touched the gun after he had been convicted of a felony. Paine’s prior felony convictions were in 1989 and 1996, supporting a rational inference that Paine possessed the gun after those convictions. Paine’s pro se supplemental brief does not raise any arguments that were not already addressed in his principal brief.
Given the totality of the circumstances and the deference given to a jury’s determinations regarding the credibility and weight of the evidence, the jury could have reasonably concluded that Paine constructively possessed the gun. Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the verdict, we conclude that there is sufficient evidence to support Paine’s conviction.