This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2004).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
State of Minnesota,
James Alan Page,
Filed November 21, 2006
Blue Earth County District Court
File No. C4-05-598
Mike Hatch, Attorney General, 1800 Bremer Tower, 445 Minnesota Street, St. Paul, MN 55101; and
Ross E. Arneson, Blue Earth County Attorney, Patrick R. McDermott, T. Keith Russell, Assistant County Attorneys, 410 South Fifth Street, P.O. Box 3129, Mankato, MN 56002 (for respondent)
John M. Stuart, State Public Defender, Roy G. Spurbeck, Assistant Public Defender, 2221 University Avenue SE, Suite 425, Minneapolis , MN 55414 (for appellant)
Considered and decided by Klaphake, Presiding Judge; Worke, Judge; and Ross, Judge.
U N P U B L I S H E D O P I N I O N
On appeal from conviction for aiding and abetting first-degree controlled substance offense, appellant argues that evidence of precursor ingredients and methamphetamine found in a garage where appellant was present was insufficient to support the conviction, because he did not own the garage, several people had access to it, and neither of the other two people present implicated him. We affirm.
D E C I S I O N
Appellant James Alan Page argues that there is insufficient evidence in the record to support his conviction for aiding and abetting the manufacture of methamphetamine. When the sufficiency of the evidence is challenged, this court’s review is “limited to a painstaking analysis of the record to determine whether the evidence, when viewed in a light most favorable to the conviction, was sufficient to permit the jurors to reach the verdict which they did.” State v. Webb, 440 N.W.2d 426, 430 (Minn. 1989). This court assumes that the jury, which has the exclusive function of judging credibility, believed the state’s witnesses and disbelieved contrary evidence. Dale v. State, 535 N.W.2d 619, 623 (Minn. 1995). We 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 have reasonably concluded that appellant was guilty of the charged offense. State v. Alton, 432 N.W.2d 754, 756 (Minn. 1988).
Appellant was convicted of aiding and abetting first-degree controlled substance crime, manufacture of methamphetamine. “[A] person is guilty of controlled substance crime in the first degree if the person manufactures any amount of methamphetamine.” Minn. Stat. § 152.021, subd. 2a(a) (2004). A person who “intentionally aids, advises, hires, counsels, or conspires with or otherwise procures” another person to commit a crime is guilty of aiding and abetting. Minn. Stat. § 609.05, subd. 1 (2004). Criminal liability is imposed when a defendant plays a knowing role in a crime and takes no steps to “thwart its completion.” State v. Ostrem, 535 N.W.2d 916, 924 (Minn. 1995). The evidence must demonstrate more than mere presence at the crime scene because “inaction, knowledge, or passive acquiescence does not rise to the level of criminal culpability.” Id. But “a person’s presence, companionship, and conduct before and after an offense are relevant circumstances from which a person’s criminal intent may be inferred.” Id. Thus, the state was required to prove that appellant played a knowing role in advancing the manufacture of any amount of methamphetamine.
The evidence shows that officers were dispatched to a vacant residence after a neighbor reported that appellant and the homeowner’s mother entered the garage in a car. The neighbor waited for 15 minutes and when nobody came out of the garage, he called the police. The officers observed that the garage windows were covered or painted and heard items being moved around and the sound of plastic being dragged across concrete. The officers knocked and announced their presence, but nobody responded. Approximately 20 minutes passed before the officers observed a light come on in the garage. Two individuals exited the garage, but appellant had to be told several times to exit the garage before he complied.
A commander was called to the site because the officers smelled a strong ammonia odor. In the area of the garage where appellant had exited, the commander noticed a light “haze” in the air and that the chemical smell was stronger in that area. The commander found a substantial amount of the items required to manufacture methamphetamine, and in his opinion, the garage was being used as a methamphetamine lab. In the area where many of the items associated with methamphetamine manufacture were located, the commander found a computer CD with appellant’s name printed on the front and a motel receipt issued to appellant. The commander also found a granular grey substance that was visibly wet and stuck in clumps in coffee filters; this substance was submitted to the BCA and came back as containing 5.6 grams of methamphetamine. The substance appeared to have been produced on the day of appellant’s arrest. The commander found all of the items necessary to complete the manufacturing process, which the commander testified is often done in different locations to prevent detection. The evidence viewed in a light most favorable to the conviction is sufficient to have allowed the jury to convict appellant of playing a knowing role in advancing the manufacture of methamphetamine.
But appellant contends that the record contains only circumstantial evidence that is insufficient to support his conviction. Circumstantial evidence is entitled to the same weight as direct evidence, but this court reviews it with stricter scrutiny. State v. Bauer, 598 N.W.2d 352, 370 (Minn. 1999). Circumstantial evidence must “form a complete chain which, in light of the evidence as a whole, leads so directly to the guilt of the accused as to exclude, beyond a reasonable doubt, any reasonable inference” other than guilt. State v. Jones, 516 N.W.2d 545, 549 (Minn. 1994). “The evidence as [a] whole need not exclude all possibility that the defendant is innocent; it must only make such a theory seem unreasonable.” State v. Smith, 619 N.W.2d 766, 770 (Minn. App. 2000), review denied (Minn. Jan. 16, 2001). The jury is in the best position to evaluate circumstantial evidence, and this court defers to its factual determinations. Webb, 440 N.W.2d at 430.
The record shows that appellant waited 20 minutes before exiting the garage. The commander found appellant’s belongings near the items that are used to manufacture methamphetamine. The substance the commander found tested positive for methamphetamine and appeared to have been produced on the day of appellant’s arrest. While appellant contends that the homeowner had given many people permission to store belongings in the garage and unlimited access to the garage, the neighbor testified that he saw appellant using the garage at all hours of the night. Further, although appellant contends that the two other individuals in the garage did not implicate him, they both testified that they were asleep the entire time they were in the garage. Despite appellant’s argument that the only direct evidence was his presence, looking at the evidence in a light most favorable to the conviction, the jury could have reasonably concluded that appellant was guilty of aiding and abetting the manufacture of methamphetamine.