This opinion will be unpublished and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,
Harvey Leroy Jahnke,
Filed January 25, 2005
Martin County District Court
File No. KX-03-5514
Mike Hatch, Attorney General, James B. Early, Assistant Attorney General, 1800 NCL Tower, 445 Minnesota Street, St. Paul, MN 55101; and
Terry Viesselman, Martin County Attorney, Suite 130, 923 North State Street, Fairmont, MN 56031 (for respondent)
John Stuart, State Public Defender, Suite 425, 2221 University Avenue Southeast, Minneapolis, MN 55414; and
Melissa Sheridan, Assistant Public Defender, Suite 320, 1380 Corporate Center Curve, Eagan, MN 55121 (for appellant)
Considered and decided by Kalitowski, Presiding Judge; Lansing, Judge; and Wright, Judge.
U N P U B L I S H E D O P I N I O N
A jury found Harvey Jahnke guilty of terroristic threats. In this appeal from conviction, Jahnke alleges prosecutorial misconduct and prejudicial error in the jury instructions. Applying the plain-error doctrine to the prosecutor’s statements about the presumption of innocence and the district court’s jury instructions on the elements of the offense, we conclude that a new trial is not warranted, and we affirm.
F A C T S
The evidence supporting Harvey Jahnke’s conviction of terroristic threats centered on testimony by a bar-and-restaurant employee. The employee knew Jahnke and also knew Diane Hinton, the mother of a child who had been sexually abused by Jahnke’s wife. The state had prosecuted and imprisoned Jahnke’s wife for the sexual assault of Hinton’s child. When Jahnke was at the bar and restaurant, he asked the employee whether she was still a friend of the Hintons. She responded that she was, and Jahnke told her, “[W]ell if you ever see Diane or her [child], please tell them that I will f---ing kill them for what they did to my wife.”
Based on these statements, the state charged Jahnke with two counts of terroristic threats. At trial, during closing argument, the prosecutor stated that the defendant is presumed innocent but also said that this presumption does not mean the jury should “give the benefit of the doubt to the defendant.” The prosecutor repeated that phrase twice during his argument. He also directly addressed reasonable doubt. He explained that reasonable doubt is “such doubt as . . . ordinary prudent men and women would act upon in their most important affairs. . . . It does not mean a fanciful or capricious doubt, nor does it mean beyond all possibility of doubt. . . . [I]t means doubt based upon reason and common sense.” The defendant did not object to any portion of the prosecutor’s closing argument.
After the closing arguments, the judge instructed the jury on the presumption of innocence, the state’s burden of proof, and the definition of proof beyond a reasonable doubt. He further instructed the jury that “[i]f an attorney’s argument contains any statement of the law that differs from the law I give you, disregard the statement.” In listing the elements of the offense, the judge stated that the defendant must have “threatened, directly or indirectly, to commit a crime of violence,” but did not define “crime of violence.” Jahnke did not object to the jury instructions.
The jury convicted Jahnke of both counts of terroristic threats, and the court subsequently sentenced him. He now appeals his conviction.
D E C I S I O N
We review jury instructions in their entirety to determine whether they fairly and adequately explain the law of the case. State v. Flores, 418 N.W.2d 150, 155 (Minn. 1988). A defendant’s failure to object to instructions before the judge instructs the jury constitutes a waiver of the right to appeal. State v. Cross, 577 N.W.2d 721, 726 (Minn. 1998). We nonetheless review the instructions if they amount to plain error affecting substantial rights or were misleading or confusing on fundamental points of law. State v. Crowsbreast, 629 N.W.2d 433, 437 (Minn. 2001). Error is prejudicial when there is a reasonable likelihood that the error would have had a significant effect on the jury’s verdict. State v. Griller, 583 N.W.2d 736, 740 (Minn. 1998).
A charge of terroristic threats requires that the defendant threatened, indirectly or directly, to commit a crime of violence with the purpose of terrorizing another or in reckless disregard of causing such terror. Minn. Stat. § 609.713, subd. 1 (2002). A district court should generally submit all elements of an offense to the jury. State v. Wick, 331 N.W.2d 769, 772 (Minn. 1983). While the instructions should explain the elements of the crime, “detailed definitions of the elements to the crime need not be given in jury instructions if the instructions do not mislead the jury or allow it to speculate over the meaning of the elements.” Peterson v. State, 282 N.W.2d 878, 881 (Minn. 1979) (footnote omitted). Jahnke challenges the district court’s jury instructions on the first element. He asserts the failure to define “crime of violence” requires this court to reverse the district court and allow a new trial.
We reject Jahnke’s claim that the instruction was erroneous. The district court instructed the jury on the elements of the crime and simply did not offer a detailed definition of “crime of violence.” But the commonly understood definition of “crime of violence” was sufficient to convey the essentials of the element to the jury. See id. (holding that failure to define “serious bodily harm” was not reversible error because instructions need not contain definitions and commonly understood definition sufficed).
Furthermore, the instructions did not affect Jahnke’s substantial rights. The statute provides that “crime of violence” is to have the same meaning as “violent crime” in section 609.1095. Minn. Stat. § 609.713, subd. 1. “Crime of violence” is therefore statutorily defined as including all the degrees of manslaughter and murder. Minn. Stat. § 609.1095, subd. 1(d) (2002). The threat to kill the Hintons necessarily constitutes either a threat to commit manslaughter or murder and qualifies as a “crime of violence.” Thus, alternative jury instructions would not have benefited Jahnke or had any effect on the jury verdict, let alone a significant effect, because the jury could not rationally believe the threatened conduct failed to satisfy the element of the crime. Therefore, the jury instructions did not result in any prejudice or affect the defendant’s substantial rights.