This opinion will be unpublished and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
Filed December 12, 2006
Hennepin County District Court
File No. 05014936
Mike Hatch, Attorney General, 1800 Bremer Tower, 445 Minnesota Street, St. Paul, MN 55101; and
John M. Stuart, State Public Defender, Lydia Villalva Lijo, Assistant
Considered and decided by Worke, Presiding Judge; Ross, Judge; and Crippen, Judge.[*]
U N P U B L I S H E D O P I N I O N
On appeal from conviction of felon in possession of a firearm, appellant argues that although police had reasonable suspicion to stop him for suspected drug dealing, they unjustifiably expanded the search by handcuffing him and conducting a second pat search which produced a handgun. Appellant also argues that his conviction should be reversed because he did not personally waive his right to a jury trial on the element of having a conviction that prohibited him from possessing a firearm. We affirm.
D E C I S I O N
DeAngelo Meanweather argues that the
district court erred in denying his motion to suppress a handgun seized during
a pat search. In reviewing pretrial
orders on motions to suppress evidence, this court independently reviews the
facts and determines, as a matter of law, whether the district court erred in
suppressing—or failing to suppress—the evidence. State
v. Harris, 590 N.W.2d 90, 98 (
Here, while conducting surveillance in a high-crime area, an undercover officer observed appellant and two other men in a parking lot. The officer observed appellant retrieve an object that he believed was a gun from a vehicle and tuck it under his pant leg. The officer’s partners stopped the men based on suspicion that they were involved in a drug transaction. One of the officers recognized appellant and one of the other men as known narcotics traffickers who hung around a gang. One of the men became uncooperative and the officers attempted to gain control of the situation. A brief pat search was conducted around appellant’s waist and when another officer stopped to assist, he was asked to handcuff appellant and place him in the officer’s squad car. Appellant fidgeted, acted nervous, and did not make eye contact. The officer handcuffed appellant and while pat searching appellant, the officer saw a handgun protruding from appellant’s boot. The officer secured the handgun, which was loaded with six .22 caliber rounds.
Appellant does not challenge the initial stop, but argues that because he was cooperative, the officers unjustifiably enlarged the scope of the stop. This court conducts a two-part analysis when considering the lawfulness of an investigatory stop. See State v. Askerooth, 681 N.W.2d 353, 364 (Minn. 2004). The first part of the inquiry is whether the stop was justified at its inception. Id. This court then considers “whether the officer’s actions during the stop were justified by and related to the circumstances giving rise to the stop. Id. “[E]ach incremental intrusion must be strictly tied to and justified by the circumstances which rendered [the initiation of the stop] permissible.” Id. (quotation omitted). Further, the detention of a person stopped may continue only “as long as reasonably necessary to effectuate the purpose of the stop.” State v. Munson, 594 N.W.2d 128, 137 (Minn. 1999). “Whether the length of the detention is unreasonable depends on the facts and circumstances of the case.” Id. “[A]s long as the reasonable suspicion for the detention remains, the police may continue the detention provided they act diligently and reasonably.” Id.
Appellant was stopped based on suspicion that he was involved in a drug transaction. The officers knew that appellant and one of the other men were known to traffic in narcotics and to hang around a gang. The officers were in a high-crime area and were outnumbered, and one of the men was uncooperative. Appellant’s limited detention and pat search were necessary for the officers’ safety. And before the second pat search, appellant fidgeted and acted nervous, leading the officer to believe that appellant was, or was about to be, involved in criminal activity. Thus, the officers’ reasonable suspicion remained, justifying appellant’s continued detention. Nothing in the record suggests that the officers delayed their efforts any longer than necessary to effectuate the purpose of the stop. The district court did not err in denying appellant’s motion to suppress the weapon.
Appellant also argues
that he is entitled to a new trial because the district court failed to secure
his personal oral or written waiver of his right to have a jury determine
whether he is a person who is legally prohibited from possessing a
firearm. Whether a defendant’s waiver
satisfied constitutional requirements is an issue this court reviews de
novo. State v. Tlapa, 642 N.W.2d 72, 74 (Minn. App. 2002), review denied (
Appellant’s attorney stipulated that
appellant was legally prohibited from possessing a firearm, but the district
court did not secure appellant’s waiver.
When a district court erroneously accepts a stipulation without a valid
waiver, this court considers the error under the harmless-error test to
determine whether it was prejudicial to the defendant. Wright,
679 N.W.2d at 191. It is the state’s
burden to establish beyond a reasonable doubt that the error was harmless.
Without the stipulation, the state would have presented evidence of appellant’s prior convictions and juvenile adjudications. Appellant does not challenge the validity of his prior convictions. By accepting the stipulation, the district court kept evidence of appellant’s prior convictions from the jury and thereby minimized prejudice to appellant. Additionally, the district court instructed the jury that the stipulation was evidence for their consideration, just like any other evidence in the case. The district court instructed the jurythat if they found that the state had proven each element of the offense, including whether appellant was prohibited from possessing a firearm, beyond a reasonable doubt then appellant was guilty. Applying the harmless-error test, the verdict was surely unattributable to the error.
[*] Retired judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals, serving by appointment pursuant to Minn. Const. art. VI, § 10.