This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2002).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Bradley D. Fordyce,
Filed July 22, 2003
Robert H. Schumacher, Judge
Donald F. Ryan, Crow Wing County Attorney, 322 Laurel Street, Brainerd, MN 56401 (for respondent)
John M. Stuart, State Public Defender, Susan J. Andrews, Assistant Public Defender, 2221 University Avenue Southeast, Suite 425, Minneapolis, MN 55414 (for appellant)
U N P U B L I S H E D O P I N I O N
ROBERT H. SCHUMACHER, Judge
Appellant Bradley D. Fordyce challenges his conviction of a controlled substance crime in the fifth degree, arguing that the district court erred by preventing him from presenting evidence that he grew a large amount of marijuana out of a personal, medical necessity. We affirm.
On September 5, 2001, responding to complaints that a van parked in a wooded area on the Potlach Corporation's land was involved in drug activity, a Crow Wing County deputy sheriff discovered a large growth of marijuana. The deputy found watering buckets, fertilizer, and three fenced-off patches of marijuana plants. The marijuana was located near an older van that looked like it was inhabited. The van was registered to Fordyce. Both the marijuana and the van were in a secluded location. The deputy was not able to locate Fordyce and could not question him that day.
A week later, the deputy returned to the site along with two other deputies. The deputies made contact with Fordyce, and he admitted he was living in the van. He also admitted that the marijuana plants were his. Fordyce led the deputies to the marijuana and expressed pride in the plants, describing some as "prize plants." With Fordyce's help the deputies harvested the plants and seized approximately 42.5 grams of marijuana.
Although Fordyce was not arrested that day, he was subsequently charged with one count of a controlled substance crime/sale in the fifth degree in violation of Minn. Stat. § 152.025, subds. 1(1)-3(a) (2000). Fordyce represented himself and was convicted following a two-day jury trial. Before trial, the district court denied Fordyce's request to explain to the jury that he was growing the marijuana strictly for personal use and that use was medically necessary. Fordyce contended that Western medicines were unable to provide him with a life worth living and marijuana did. Following his conviction, the district court stayed a one year and one day sentence and placed Fordyce on probation.
Fordyce argues that the district court erred by not allowing him to assert the defense of medical necessity. The state argues that Fordyce did not properly preserve this matter for appeal and Minnesota does not recognize medical necessity as a defense to a marijuana charge.
We disagree with the state's first claim. During the hearing on the motions in limine, Fordyce was adamant that he should be allowed to present the medical-necessity defense. We conclude that Fordyce, who was acting pro se, sufficiently objected to the district court's ruling to preserve the issue for appeal. Minn. R. Civ. App. P. 103.04.
We therefore now address the medical-necessity defense. A criminal defendant has a constitutional right to present a complete and meaningful defense. State v. Richards, 495 N.W.2d 187, 191 (Minn. 1992). But this right is not without limits and precludes a defendant from introducing prejudicial, irrelevant, or otherwise impermissible evidence. State v. Crims, 540 N.W.2d 860, 866 (Minn. App. 1995), review denied (Minn. Jan 23, 1996).
This court has previously ruled on the question of whether medical necessity is an appropriate defense to a marijuana charge in State v. Hanson, 468 N.W.2d 77 (Minn. App. 1991), review denied (Minn. June 3, 1991). In Hanson, the defendant argued that he could present evidence that he grew the 100 marijuana plants the police found at his home to help alleviate the severity of his epileptic seizures. Id. at 78. The defendant had a neurologist available to testify that "marijuana was 'therapeutically useful in controlling epileptic seizures.'" Id. The supreme court noted the legislature has specifically considered the issue of when people could use marijuana for therapeutic purposes and has chosen to make a single exception "for cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy who are receiving the drug under the strict controls of an approved medical research program." Id. (citing Minn. Stat. § 152.21, subds. 1, 3, 6 (1990)). The Hanson court concluded that the legislature has established the only possible acceptable medical uses of marijuana, and because the defendant's use fell outside the legislative exception, the defense of medical necessity was not available to him. Id.at 79.
But despite the fact the medical-necessity defense is not available here Fordyce nevertheless had a due process right to explain his conduct. See State v. Brechon, 352 N.W.2d 745, 751 (Minn. 1984) (stating excluding defendant's testimony raises "serious constitutional questions"). Therefore, Fordyce had a right to testify that he was using marijuana he grew because marijuana provides a life worth living and Western medicine does not. The district court erred in excluding this testimony.
But an error in excluding defense evidence is considered harmless if this court is satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt that if the evidence had been admitted, and its damaging potential fully realized, a reasonable jury would have reached the same verdict. State v. Post, 512 N.W.2d 99, 102 (Minn. 1994). Assuming the full "damaging potential" of Fordyce's self-interested, lay opinion as to the medical necessity of his marijuana use had been realized, a reasonable jury would have reached the same verdict. There was no medical basis for Fordyce's opinion, and his claim of medical need was vague and unsupported. Cf. Hansen, 468 N.W.2d at 78 (defendant offered expert medical testimony that marijuana was useful in controlling his epileptic seizures). Moreover, the jury would not have received a medical-necessity instruction recognizing Fordyce's testimony as providing a possible defense. Therefore, it can be said beyond a reasonable doubt that the error in excluding this testimony was harmless.
We do not discount the benefit Fordyce received from his self-administration of marijuana and it has no doubt made his life seem more enjoyable. Likewise, we will assume as true the fact that Western medicines have been ineffective in treating the undisclosed ailments that afflict him. But whether, and under what circumstances, the medical-necessity defense can be used is for the legislature. See St. Aubin v. Burke, 434 N.W.2d 282, 284 (Minn. App. 1989) (stating that Minnesota Court of Appeals' function is "primarily decisional and error correcting rather than * * * legislative or doctrinal") (quotation omitted), review denied (Minn. Mar. 29, 1989). Because Fordyce was not using marijuana in the very limited manner prescribed by the legislature, we conclude that the district court did not err in denying Fordyce the defense of medical necessity.
Fordyce also asserts in his pro se brief that he was unfairly tricked into confessing by the deputies' alleged offer of immunity in exchange for Fordyce's cooperation. In addition, he asserts the district court abused its discretion by not admitting a tape on which Fordyce claims the deputy admits he "double crossed" Fordyce. All parties are entitled to present relevant evidence at trial so long as the probative value of the evidence is not substantially outweighed by its prejudicial effect. Minn. R. Evid. 403. Appellate courts largely defer to the district court's evidentiary rulings, which will not be overturned absent a clear abuse of discretion. State v. Kelly, 435 N.W.2d 807, 813 (Minn. 1989).
Here, the district court refused to admit evidence of an interview between Fordyce and the deputy pertaining to an unrelated charge that was ultimately dismissed. Further, even if the deputy had in fact misled Fordyce, this fact alone, without a showing of some other extreme misconduct by the deputy, would not merit reversal. Compare State v. Merrill, 274 N.W.2d 99, 107-08 (Minn. 1978) (confession was admissible despite detective's purposeful conduct that may have led suspect to believe he would charged with lesser offense if he confessed), and State v. Barner, 486 N.W.2d 1, 2 (Minn. App. 1992) (confession held to be voluntary despite fact defendant confessed after police deliberately lied about strength of evidence against him), with State v. Biron, 266 Minn. 272, 282, 123 N.W.2d 392, 399 (1963) (holding police overt promise that if minor confessed he would be adjudicated in juvenile court rendered confession invalid). Accordingly we cannot say the district court abused its discretion in excluding the proffered evidence.