This opinion will be unpublished and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
State of Minnesota,
Jason Eric Munckton,
Filed September 21, 2004
Ottertail County District Court
File No. K6-03-246
John Stuart, State Public Defender, Michael F. Cromett, Assistant Public Defender, 2221 University Avenue Southeast, Suite 425, Minneapolis, MN 55414 (for appellant)
Mike Hatch, Attorney General, James B. Early, Assistant Attorney General, 1800 NCL Tower, 445 Minnesota Street, St. Paul, MN 55101-2134; and
David J. Hauser, Otter Tail County Attorney, Otter Tail County Courthouse, 121 Junius Avenue, Fergus Falls, MN 56537 (for respondent)
Considered and decided by Anderson, Presiding Judge; Schumacher, Judge; and Halbrooks, Judge.
G. BARRY ANDERSON, Judge
A jury convicted Jason Munckton of first-degree burglary for stealing three guns from a home. On appeal, Munckton argues that there was insufficient evidence to corroborate the testimony of an accomplice and that he was denied a fair trial when a detective improperly testified that Munckton received a Miranda warning. We affirm.
On November 15, 2002, the victim, Mark Loerzel, discovered that three guns were missing from his gun cabinet at his home in Perham. Kenneth Lowden, Loerzel’s neighbor, had heard a car door slam that day around noon. Lowden saw a two-door white Grand Am with a spoiler on the back parked in another neighbor’s driveway. Lowden testified that Munckton’s car, as shown to him in an exhibit at trial, looked just like the vehicle he saw parked in the driveway on November 15. Lowden observed the Grand Am parked in the driveway and then observed the vehicle departing. Lowden then saw an individual walk past his house and go between Loerzel’s house and a garage. Lowden was unable to identify the individual.
Later that day, deputy sheriff Keith Van Dyke, investigating the gun theft, discovered three tire tracks from which he concluded that the departing vehicle had a wheelbase of approximately 51 inches. The tire width was approximately 8.5 inches. Van Dyke also obtained a seven-inch tire-width measurement from another single track that he believed was unrelated to the burglary.
Van Dyke concluded that there was a “definite similarity” between Munckton’s front tires and the 8.5-inch tracks from which he obtained a wheelbase measurement and concluded that the tracks of Munckton’s vehicle were similar to the tire tracks found at the scene. Sketches and photographs of the tracks and Munckton’s car were also obtained.
Charles Nordahl, an investigator, testified on behalf of Munckton that the tire tracks were “not exactly consistent.” Nordahl has no expert training in tire analysis.
Tiffany Rubink telephoned Erik Olson a couple of days after the burglary and told Olson about a burglary involving herself and Munckton. Olson told her to talk to the police because he thought it was in her best interests to come forward. Rubink, previously Olson’s girlfriend, had a relationship with Munckton at the time of the call to Olson. Rubink had an on-and-off relationship with both Olson and Munckton but at the time of trial was again Olson’s girlfriend and was four months pregnant with Olson’s child.
Olson reported Rubink’s involvement in the burglary and said that Rubink would be willing to cooperate if given an incentive. Olson also spoke with Munckton and later testified that Munckton was “extremely unhappy” that Olson had contacted the police. Olson testified that Munckton told Olson that a neighbor saw Munckton but there was no way the neighbor could identify him from a distance and that the police did not have a case against him.
Rubink testified that she had been with Munckton on the day of the burglary, that she had dropped him off at a residence, and when she returned to pick him up, Munckton was carrying three guns. Rubink also testified that Munckton had to break a window to get inside the house and that there was a “Road Under Water” sign that she noticed while driving on a nearby road. One of Loerzel’s windows was broken and there was a “Road Under Water” sign about half a mile from Loerzel’s home. Rubink also testified that she saw a cedar house near where Munckton was standing. Loerzel’s home has cedar siding. Munckton had previously been in the Loerzel house because Loerzel’s son had once been a friend of Munckton’s.
Rubink testified that Munckton made “quite a few” phone calls after they returned home. Phone records showed that 10 calls were made between 1 and 2 o’clock in the afternoon from the Munckton residence. One telephone number was located in the Twin Cities metro area. Rubink testified that she and Munckton later went to the Twin Cities to get rid of the guns. One of the stolen guns was eventually recovered by the Minnetonka Police Department.
Finally, at trial, in response to a question by the prosecutor, an officer testified that he had read Munckton “his rights by Miranda.” After objection, the district court instructed the jury to disregard the prosecutor’s question.
Munckton was convicted of first-degree burglary and was sentenced by the district court to the presumptive term of 98 months. This appeal followed.
Munckton claims that he was unlawfully convicted on uncorroborated accomplice testimony. An accused may not be convicted of a crime on the uncorroborated testimony of an accomplice. Minn. Stat. § 634.04 (2002); State v. Pederson, 614 N.W.2d 724, 732 (Minn. 2000). Corroboration is required because an accomplice’s testimony is considered inherently untrustworthy, primarily because an accomplice may testify against the defendant “in hope of receiving clemency.” State v. Harris, 405 N.W.2d 224, 227 (Minn. 1987) (quoting State v. Houle, 257 N.W.2d 320, 324 (Minn. 1977)). “Evidence that merely shows the commission of the crime or the circumstances thereof is not sufficient to corroborate accomplice testimony.” State v. Johnson, 616 N.W.2d 720, 727 (Minn. 2000). Evidence corroborating an accomplice’s testimony must link the defendant to the crime, but it need not establish a prima facie case of guilt. State v. Adams, 295 N.W.2d 527, 533 (Minn. 1980). “Corroborating evidence is sufficient if it ‘restores confidence in the accomplice’s testimony, confirming its truth and pointing to the defendant’s guilt in some substantial degree.’” State v. Ford, 539 N.W.2d 214, 225 (Minn. 1995) (quoting State v. Scruggs, 421 N.W.2d 707, 713 (Minn. 1988)), cert. denied Ford v. Minnesota, 517 U.S. 1125, 116 S. Ct. 1362 (1996). The sufficiency of the circumstantial evidence to corroborate an accomplice’s testimony that the defendant participated in the crime is reviewed “in the light most favorable to the verdict.” State v. Bowles, 530 N.W.2d 521, 532 (Minn. 1995).
Munckton argues that there was insufficient evidence to corroborate Rubink’s testimony. Munckton contends the evidence suggests that someone else committed the crime. The evidence that Rubink was involved in the crime as an accomplice is overwhelming; not only did she implicate herself, but she also knew details that only someone involved in the crime would know, including the location of the “Road Under Water” sign, the broken window, Loerzel’s cedar house, and the number of stolen guns. The issue we deal with here is merely whether the evidence at trial corroborates Rubink’s testimony that Munckton was also involved.
To the extent that there was contradictory testimony about the possibility that Munckton’s car left the tire tracks, we must assume on review that the jury believed the state’s witnesses. See State v. Moore, 438 N.W.2d 101, 108 (Minn. 1989) (holding that a reviewing court assumes that the “jury believed the state’s witnesses and disbelieved any evidence to the contrary”). While Munckton argues that any corroboration based on Olson’s testimony is unwarranted, it is for the jury to determine the credibility of a witness. See id. (holding that the “weight and credibility of the testimony of individual witnesses is for the jury to determine”). Given the expert testimony linking Munckton’s vehicle to the scene and the equivocal testimony by Munckton’s expert, it is clear that the jury believed the state’s witnesses and rejected Munckton’s challenge to that evidence. On this record, and given our deferential standard of review, Munckton’s challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence demonstrating the involvement of his vehicle fails.
The evidence corroborating Rubink’s version of events included Munckton’s knowledge of the Loerzel house, an eyewitness identification of Munckton’s car, tire tracks at the scene resembling Munckton’s tires, Olson’s testimony that Munckton was upset that Olson contacted the police, Rubink’s testimony that they sold the guns in the Twin Cities in conjunction with Munckton’s phone records, and the recovery of one of the guns in Minnetonka. Furthermore, Olson knew that a neighbor saw Munckton from a distance, a fact that he could only learn from the person who committed the burglary. This is overwhelming evidence substantially supporting Munckton’s involvement in the burglary and, when viewed in the light most favorable to the verdict, is sufficient to corroborate Rubink’s accomplice testimony.
“To prevent a jury from improperly assuming that an accused exercised the right to remain silent, this court does not allow the prosecution to reveal only the fact that the accused received a Miranda warning” unless it is used as foundation for a later statement by the accused. State v. Jobe, 486 N.W.2d 407, 414 (Minn. 1992). While it is constitutional error to reveal the fact that the accused received a Miranda warning, that error “does not require a new trial if the state can show beyond a reasonable doubt that the error was harmless.” State v. Jones, 556 N.W.2d 903, 910 (Minn. 1996).
Munckton argues that because the district court only instructed the jury to disregard the question, the jury could still improperly consider the police officer’s answer regarding the Miranda warning. While it was error for the detective to testify that Munckton received a Miranda warning, any technical defect in the district court’s correction of that error is of no significance in light of the overwhelming evidence supporting Munckton’s conviction. Any error was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt, and we therefore affirm Munckton’s conviction of first-degree burglary.