This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2006).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
State of Minnesota,
Filed June 19, 2007
Hennepin County District Court
File No. 05029470
Lori Swanson, Attorney General, 1800 Bremer Tower, 445 Minnesota Street, St. Paul, MN 55101-2134; and
Michael O. Freeman, Hennepin County Attorney, Donna J. Wolfson, Assistant County Attorney, C-2000 Government Center, Minneapolis, MN 55487 (for respondent)
John M. Stuart, State Public Defender, Theodora Gaïtas, Assistant Public Defender, 2221 University Avenue Southeast, Suite 425, Minneapolis, MN 55414 (for appellant)
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 Gadelle Ferguson challenges his conviction of ineligible person in possession of a firearm under Minn. Stat. § 624.713, subd. 1 (2004), arguing that: (1) a juvenile conviction for a second-degree controlled-substance crime does not render appellant a person ineligible to possess a firearm; (2) the conviction is based on insufficient evidence that he possessed a prohibited firearm; and (3) the court’s failure to provide appellant with notice that he is a person ineligible to possess a firearm violated his due process rights. We affirm.
D E C I S I O N
Appellant Gadelle Ferguson argues that the district court abused its discretion by concluding that the prohibition against firearm possession in Minn. Stat. § 624.713, subd. 1 (2004), extends to someone adjudicated delinquent for committing second-degree controlled-substance crime. We disagree.
Because this is a question of statutory interpretation, our standard of review is de novo. Meyer v. Best W. Seville Plaza Hotel, 562 N.W.2d 690, 692 (Minn. App. 1997), review denied (Minn. June 26, 1997). In interpreting statutes, the legislative intent controls. Minn. Stat. § 645.16 (2006). “When interpreting a statute, we first look to see whether the statute’s language, on its face, is clear or ambiguous. A statute is only ambiguous when the language therein is subject to more than one reasonable interpretation.” Am. Family Ins. Group v. Schroedl, 616 N.W.2d 273, 277 (Minn. 2000) (quotation and citation omitted).
The statute in question here includes in the category of persons ineligible to possess certain firearms “a person who has been convicted of, or adjudicated delinquent or convicted as an extended jurisdiction juvenile for committing, in this state or elsewhere, a crime of violence.” Minn. Stat. § 624.713, subd. 1(b).
Appellant argues that his juvenile delinquency adjudication does not fall within the statute’s purview because the statute applies only to delinquent adjudications made under extended juvenile jurisdiction. Appellant bases his argument on the lack of a comma following “adjudicated delinquent” in Minn. Stat. § 624.713, subd. 1. Under appellant’s interpretation, only those “convicted” or “adjudicated delinquent or convicted as an extended jurisdiction juvenile” qualify as ineligible persons under the statute. We disagree.
We conclude that the statute is not ambiguous and its plain meaning includes three groups of ineligible people: those “convicted,” those “adjudicated delinquent,” and those “convicted as an extended jurisdiction juvenile.” Because appellant was adjudicated delinquent, the district court did not abuse its discretion by concluding that appellant is an ineligible person.
Appellant argues that the district court erred by determining beyond a reasonable doubt that appellant constructively possessed a prohibited firearm. We disagree.
In considering a claim of insufficiency of the evidence, our 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,” is sufficient to allow the fact-finder to reach the verdict that it reached. State v. Webb, 440 N.W.2d 426, 430 (Minn. 1989). We must assume that the fact-finder believed the state’s witnesses and disbelieved any evidence to the contrary. State v. Moore, 438 N.W.2d 101, 108 (Minn. 1989). We will not disturb the verdict if the fact-finder, acting with due regard for the presumption of innocence and the requirement of proof beyond a reasonable doubt, could reasonably conclude the defendant was proven guilty of the charged offense. Bernhardt v. State, 684 N.W.2d 465, 476-77 (Minn. 2004).
The district court found that appellant constructively possessed the prohibited firearm. To prove constructive possession, the state must show either:
(a) that the police found the substance in a place under defendant’s exclusive control to which other people did not normally have access, or (b) that, if police found it in a place to which others had access, there is a strong probability (inferable from other evidence) that defendant was at the time consciously exercising dominion and control over it.
State v. Florine, 303 Minn. 103, 105, 226 N.W.2d 609, 611 (1975).
We look at the totality of the circumstances in assessing whether appellant had constructive possession of the gun. See State v. Munoz, 385 N.W.2d 373, 377 (Minn. App. 1986). Circumstantial evidence is entitled to the same weight as direct evidence, but is reviewed with stricter scrutiny. State v. Bauer, 598 N.W.2d 352, 370 (Minn. 1999). “[C]ircumstantial 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 that of guilt.” Webb, 440 N.W.2d at 430 (quotation omitted). “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 fact-finder is in the best position to evaluate circumstantial evidence, and we defer to its verdict. Webb, 440 N.W.2d at 430.
Here, the district court found that:
The evidence presented is sufficient, however, to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant, Gadelle Ferguson, had constructive possession of the .32 caliber handgun, a pistol, found in the vehicle he was driving in that he consciously exercised dominion and control over the weapon.
It based its finding on the following evidence: (1) The police officers heard shots from the area from which appellant’s vehicle approached; (2) appellant drove away from the area at an accelerated rate of speed; (3) when stopped, appellant immediately put his hands in the air; (4) appellant was the car’s sole occupant; (5) appellant initially provided a false name and identification to the police; (6) a handgun and empty clip were found in a hat between the driver’s seat and the center console; and (7) the police officer testified that the weapon smelled of gunpowder indicating it had been recently discharged.
Based on the evidence, we conclude that the district court did not clearly err by finding that appellant had constructive possession of the firearm.
Appellant argues that the district court abused its discretion by concluding that the court’s failure to provide notice to appellant that he is an ineligible person violated his procedural due process rights. We disagree.
Appellant’s situation is similar to the facts in State v. Grillo, in which a defendant’s prior juvenile delinquency adjudication was not originally characterized as a crime of violence, but was later reclassified as such. 661 N.W.2d 641, 643 (Minn. App. 2003), review denied (Minn. Aug. 5, 2003). After the reclassification, the defendant was arrested on a firearms charge. Id. He argued that his due process rights had been violated because he had not received notice that he was an ineligible person. Id. at 645. In denying the defendant’s claim, the court relied on a statement in Minn. Stat. § 624.713, subd. 3(a) (2000), that the court’s failure to provide notice of ineligibility to a defendant does not affect the applicability of the statute. Id.
Consistent with the Grillo court’s application of Minn. Stat. § 624.713, subd. 3(a), we reject appellant’s due process claim that because he did not receive notice he cannot be held responsible for the crime. Thus, the district court did not abuse its discretion by concluding that lack of notice does not result in exoneration of a defendant of a charge of ineligible person in possession of a firearm based on a violation of procedural due process rights.
Finally, we have reviewed appellant’s additional pro se claims, including racial profiling and lack of probable cause, and find them to be without merit.