This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2006).
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Damon Dechone Halliburton,
Filed June 12, 2007
Dakota County District Court
File No. K7-05-643
Lori Swanson, Attorney General, 445 Minnesota Street, 1800 Bremer Tower, St. Paul, MN 55101-2134; and
James C. Backstrom, Dakota County Attorney, Helen R. Brosnahan, Assistant County Attorney, Dakota County Judicial Center, 1560 Highway 55, Hastings, MN 55033 (for respondent)
John M. Stuart, State Public
Defender, Suzanne M. Senecal-Hill, Assistant Public Defender,
Considered and decided by Shumaker, Presiding Judge; Kalitowski, Judge; and Willis, Judge.
U N P U B L I S H E D O P I N I O N
Appellant was found guilty by a jury of car theft, fleeing a peace officer in a motor vehicle, giving a false name to a peace officer, and obstructing legal process, all arising out of a car crash in which the driver, identified as appellant, fled the scene. The district court imposed an aggravated durational departure in sentencing after the jury found the requisite departure factors beyond a reasonable doubt. Appellant challenges the sufficiency of the evidence to support the convictions, the propriety of the jury determination of the departure factors, and the court’s evidentiary rulings in the sentencing phase. Because the evidence was sufficient and the court did not err in sentencing, we affirm.
In March 2002, Officer Leah Reyes-Rambaum was on patrol on I-494 when she saw a Dodge Intrepid speeding on the frontage road. She observed that the car failed to stop at a stop sign, and then entered the freeway. When Reyes-Rambaum activated her siren and squad car emergency lights, the vehicle sped away. During the officer’s pursuit, the Intrepid swerved in and out of traffic and reached a speed of 110 m.p.h., and the officer lost sight of the car. The vehicle left the freeway and, on the exit ramp, the driver lost control, hit several traffic signs, and the car rolled into a ditch.
As Reyes-Rambaum approached the vehicle, she saw the driver leave and jump over a four-foot chain-link fence. At the time of the incident, she reported that the driver had straight, shoulder length hair, was possibly Asian, and about 5’5” tall, and that he was wearing a black coat. He ran towards a small business area located at the top of the exit ramp, which contained a gas station, and strip mall with a liquor store, tanning salon, and hair salon. Knowing that she would not be able to catch the man, Reyes-Rambaum called for backup.
Daniel Bosscher, a manager at the tanning salon at the top of the ramp, saw a maroon car crash on the ramp. He did not see anyone get out of the crashed vehicle, but he could see a larger black man wearing a white shirt coming from the direction of the accident, carrying a navy-blue coat or sweatshirt. The man went over to the gas station, walking across the parking lot while making strange gestures. Bosscher called 911 to report what he had seen.
Dennis Martin, the assistant manager at the gas station, saw a man he later identified as Halliburton running along the business-side of the chain-link fence, just past the front of the bicycle shop. He could not see the exit ramp, but he said that Halliburton looked confused and upset and was stumbling and carrying a gray coat in his hand. He saw Halliburton walk back and forth in front of the gas station and talk to a gas-station customer before he entered and left the hair salon.
Kevin Weglarz, a gas-station customer, heard a woman screaming, followed by the rattling of a chain-link fence. He saw a 5’9” or 5’10” heavyset man with black hair, wearing a white t-shirt, walk across the parking lot. He testified that the man acted like his shoulder was injured and attempted to shove his jacket underneath his shirt. Weglarz saw the man enter the hair salon.
Tristan Beckman, a hairstylist at the salon, testified that she saw Halliburton enter the salon. He was sweating and nervous. Beckman described Halliburton as an African-American male with longish dark wavy hair that was combed back. He was not wearing a coat, which Beckman thought odd as it was quite cold out. Halliburton inquired about hair services and then made an appointment for a couple days later, giving Beckman the name Tony. After Halliburton left the salon, Beckman saw him walk across to the gas station, where he was arrested.
Officer Dennis Brom arrived shortly after the crash to assist Reyes-Rambaum. He went to the parking lot of the gas station and noticed that a state-patrol trooper already had Halliburton in custody. Halliburton was wearing a white t-shirt, had snow on his shoes, and was breathing heavily and sweating. Halliburton told Brom he had a cold and that he was in the area to get his hair done at the salon. Reyes-Rambaum went to the gas station where she was unable to identify Halliburton from the front, but said she recognized him by his hair and coat. Halliburton originally gave Brom a false name and birth date but later identified himself correctly, and told Brom that he lied because there was a warrant out for his arrest.
Brom checked the license plate of the crashed vehicle and discovered it had been stolen. The vehicle belonged to Michelle McPhillips, who had reported the car stolen three days earlier. She stated that she had not given anyone permission to use the vehicle and that she did not know or recognize Halliburton.
A jury found Halliburton guilty of motor-vehicle theft, fleeing a peace officer in a motor vehicle, giving a false name to the police, and obstructing legal process.
After the “guilt phase” of the trial, the court held a “sentencing phase” in which it submitted to the jury departure issues. Upon the jury’s findings, the court sentenced Halliburton to an aggravated durational departure. This appeal followed,
D E C I S I O N
Sufficiency of the Evidence
Halliburton first argues that the state relied on circumstantial evidence to link him to the crashed Intrepid and that the state failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he was guilty of fleeing a police officer and of unauthorized use of a motor vehicle.
On review of a claim of insufficient
evidence to support a conviction, this court must determine whether, “given the
facts in the record and any legitimate inferences that can be drawn from those
facts, a jury could reasonably find that the defendant was guilty of the
charged offense.” State v. Laine, 715 N.W.2d 425, 430 (
First, contrary to Halliburton’s
assertions that the evidence was entirely circumstantial, Officer Reyes-Rambaum
provided direct eyewitness testimony that she saw Halliburton leave the crashed
car, jump the fence, and go into the shopping area, and she was later able to
identify Halliburton as the driver of the vehicle. Although there was some inconsistency in this
testimony—Reyes-Rambaum described Halliburton as Asian, underestimated his
height and build, and said his hair was straight—she was able to identify him
from his hair and coat. Even in cases
where testimony is weakened by discrepancies between witness description and
actual physical appearance, this court has held that a single witness is
sufficient. State v.
But substantial circumstantial
evidence corroborated Reyes-Rambaum’s testimony. Several witnesses said that they saw
Halliburton approach the shopping area from the direction of the accident. He was injured, holding a dark coat even
though it was cold outside, and was acting strangely. This testimony established a strong inference
that Halliburton had been involved in the accident that was witnessed by
several people, and his presence in the shopping area in such close proximity
to the crash established a connection between Halliburton and the stolen
Intrepid. Moreover, the aggregate
testimony of several other witnesses established that Halliburton was coming
from the area of the crash, that he entered the shopping area and was acting
suspiciously, thereby substantiating the chain of events directly described by
Reyes-Rambaum. This evidence hinges
almost entirely on witness credibility, and Halliburton, by challenging the
testimony, is essentially asking us to reweigh credibility, which is improper
the circumstantial evidence, presented through the testimony of several
witnesses, formed a complete chain that, in light of the evidence as a whole,
would lead a reasonable jury to conclude that no rational explanation existed
other than that Halliburton had crashed the stolen Intrepid and ran into the
shopping area to hide from the police officers.
Since the jury is best suited to evaluate circumstantial evidence, especially
when such evidence depends on witness credibility, its verdict is deserving of
also asserts that the evidence is insufficient to support his motor-vehicle
theft conviction under Minn. Stat. § 609.52, subd. 2(17) (2004), because
there is nothing to support a connection between Halliburton and the vehicle
that had been stolen three days prior.
He asserts that the state failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that
he knew or should have known that the owner of the Intrepid did not give him
consent to drive the vehicle. However,
the statute applies not only to the actual taking of motor vehicles, but also
penalizes an individual who “drives a motor vehicle without the consent of the
Inherent Judicial Authority
court enhanced Halliburton’s sentence by applying the “career offender”
provision of Minn. Stat. § 609.1095, subd. 4 (2004). Halliburton argues that the statute is
unconstitutional because it authorizes the district court, not the jury, to
determine whether he was qualified as a career offender and the district court
had no authority to cure this defect by holding a separate sentencing
trial. Halliburton filed his brief prior
to the Minnesota Supreme Court’s decision in State v. Chauvin, which addressed the issue of judicial authority
and sentencing juries. 723 N.W.2d 20, 20
The Chauvin court concluded that, because the use of a sentencing jury was necessary to achieve a unique judicial function and did not infringe on equally important legislative or executive functions, the district court not only possessed the inherent judicial authority to impanel a sentencing jury to make findings regarding the aggravating factor of victim vulnerability, id. at 24, but also exercised that authority properly in that the district court’s actions were consistent with subsequent legislative enactments such as Minn. Stat. § 244.10 (2004 & Supp. 2005) (authorizing use of sentencing juries for resentencing hearings). Chauvin, 723 N.W.2d at 29.
In State v. Kendell, the state sought an aggravated sentencing
departure under the sentencing-enhancement statute codified at Minn. Stat.
§ 609.1095 (2004). 723 N.W.2d 597,
Therefore, because Minn. Stat. § 609.1095, subd. 4, is not facially unconstitutional, and because the district court exercised its inherent judicial authority to empanel a sentencing jury when Halliburton was sentenced after Blakely, but prior to the 2005 legislative amendments, the district court did not err by convening a sentencing jury which ultimately found that Halliburton qualified as a career offender.
Ex Post Facto Violation
Halliburton also argues that the district
court violated the prohibition against ex post facto laws by
convening a sentencing jury without statutory authority, because a departure
from the presumptive guidelines sentence based on jury findings is an “increase
in punishment” for a criminal act. The
Ex Post Facto Clause of the United States Constitution
provides that “[n]o State shall . . . pass any . . . ex
post facto Law.”
Halliburton asserts that applying the revised version of Minn.
Stat. § 244.10, subd. 5 (Supp. 2005), violated his rights under the
prohibited as ex post facto laws because they do not work to [a defendant’s] disadvantage. It is axiomatic that for a law to be ex post facto it must be more onerous than the prior law. The 2005 sentencing amendments inure to [a defendant’s] advantage because they afford [them] a new sentencing hearing where the quantum of the proof will be higher. They vindicate, not violate, [a defendant’s] constitutional rights.
The court increased Halliburton’s sentence under Minn. Stat. § 609.1095, subd. 4, which permits an aggravated departure from the presumptive sentence upon finding (1) that “the offender has five or more prior felony convictions” and (2) “that the present offense is a felony that was committed as part of a pattern of criminal conduct.”
On both factors, the state offered into evidence certified copies of various court records of Halliburton’s prior offenses, including criminal complaints, plea petitions, case-activity summaries, transcripts of plea hearings, and judgments of conviction. Halliburton objected to the complaints as being hearsay and having no foundation, but stated, “No objection to the documents relating to the convictions.” The court overruled the objection and received all certified copies.
To satisfy section 609.1095, subdivision 4, there first
needs to be evidence of five or more felony convictions.
The admissible evidence shows that Halliburton had nine prior felony convictions, namely financial-transaction fraud; possession of cocaine with intent to distribute; two third-degree burglaries; theft; fifth-degree controlled-substance crime; two motor vehicle thefts; and fleeing a peace officer in a motor vehicle. Those nine convictions satisfy the first requirement of section 609.1095, subdivision 4.
The criminal code does not provide special definition of
“pattern” as required for the second factor, but the Minnesota Supreme Court
has held that a pattern of criminal conduct “may be demonstrated by reference
felony . . . convictions . . . where
such acts are similar to the present offense in motive, purpose, results,
participants, victims or other characteristics.” State
v. Gorman, 546 N.W.2d 5, 9 (
Although the criminal complaints the court received in evidence were inadmissible hearsay, the admissible evidence was more than ample to satisfy the enhancement requirements.