Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (1996).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Scott Frederick Hegstrom,
Filed March 10, 1998
File No. K295907
Hubert H. Humphrey III, Attorney General, Thomas R. Ragatz, Assistant Attorney General, 1400 NCL Tower, 445 Minnesota Street, St. Paul, MN 55101 (for respondent)
Boyd A. Beccue, Kandiyohi County Attorney, 316 S.W. Fourth Street, Willmar, MN 56201 (for respondent)
John M. Stuart, State Public Defender, Sharon E. Jacks, Assistant State Public Defender, 2829 University Avenue, Suite 600, Minneapolis, MN 55414 (for appellant)
Considered and decided by Willis, Presiding Judge, Lansing, Judge, and Davies, Judge.
Appellant challenges his conviction for criminal vehicular homicide and his consecutive sentences on the ground that the sentences exaggerate the criminality of his conduct. We affirm in part and vacate in part.
State Patrol Lieutenant Roger Anhorn, one of the investigating officers at the scene and a certified accident reconstructionist, testified that, based on marks on the highway and the damage to the rear of the victims' car and the front of Hegstrom's truck, he concluded that Hegstrom rear-ended the victims' car. In reconstructing the accident, Lieutenant Anhorn concluded that (1) Hegstrom was travelling at approximately 80 miles per hour; (2) Hegstrom had not applied his brakes before the collision; (3) the collision caused the victims' car to rotate counter-clockwise, then as the driver steered out of the spin, the car continued to slide to the left and hit the shoulder of the road travelling approximately 41 miles per hour; and (4) the car was airborne for 38 feet, rolled down a steep embankment, and came to rest upside down in a creek. Hegstrom did not stop his truck until he reached the next intersection. At the scene, Hegstrom told police that he had looked out the right window of his truck at the New London Ready-Mix plant "for a couple of minutes and watched what was going on" and the impact was the next thing he remembered.
Minnesota State Patrol Trooper Dennis Koenen testified that Hegstrom told him at the scene that he did not know whether he had collided with another vehicle or if the vehicle collided with him and he did not see the victims' car until after the collision.
Gertrude Hunt, who was driving east on highway 23 at the time of the accident, testified that she saw the victims' car "give a jolt type of movement," cross the road in front of her, become "airborne," and go end-over-end down into the ditch. William Milberger testified that he saw the two vehicles side by side "both rocking like the road was real rough," and then the car started tumbling. Milberger testified that the vehicles were approximately three-quarters of a mile from him and he could not tell if the car had been in front of or behind the truck before they were next to each other. Delmar Brossard testified that the car did not swerve, turn, or slow down before it was hit and that he blacked out at the time of the accident and only remembered shortly before the impact and then exiting the water.
Dr. Lyle Munneke, medical examiner for Kandiyohi County, testified that Milo Brossard probably drowned as a result of the accident and that Zelpha Brossard and Iva Burr died as a result of head injuries received in the accident.
Hegstrom first was charged with three counts of criminal vehicular homicide for operating a vehicle in a negligent manner while under the influence, in violation of Minn. Stat. § 609.21, subd. 1(2) (1994). The state filed an amended complaint charging Hegstrom with three additional counts of criminal vehicular homicide for operating a vehicle in a grossly negligent manner, in violation of Minn. Stat. § 609.21, subd. 1(1) (1994). Following a jury trial, the jury found Hegstrom guilty of all six charges. The court convicted Hegstrom on all six offenses but sentenced him only to three consecutive sentences of 58 months on count four and 48 months on each of counts five and six--the three gross negligence counts. This appeal followed.
Hegstrom and the state agree that the district court erred when it convicted him on all six counts of criminal vehicular homicide where there were only three victims. A court cannot convict a defendant twice for the same offense based on the same act or course of conduct. State v. Hodges, 386 N.W.2d 709, 710 (Minn. 1986); see also Minn. Stat. § 609.04, subd. 2 (1996). Therefore, if the defendant is convicted on more than one charge for the same act, the district court must "adjudicate formally and impose sentence" on only one count for each victim. State v. LaTourelle, 343 N.W.2d 277, 284 (Minn. 1984). But such a defendant is only entitled to vacation of the formal adjudication, not the findings of guilt. State v. Wilson, 539 N.W.2d 241, 247 (Minn. 1995).
The jury found Hegstrom guilty of three counts of criminal vehicular homicide for operating a motor vehicle in a negligent manner while under the influence and three counts of criminal vehicular homicide for operating a motor vehicle in a grossly negligent manner. See Minn. Stat. § 609.21, subds. 1(1), 1(2)(i) (1996). Although the district court sentenced Hegstrom only on the counts of operating a motor vehicle in a grossly negligent manner, it convicted him on all six counts. The record shows that there were three victims, not six, and the convictions were based on the same course of conduct. We conclude that the district court erred in convicting Hegstrom on all six counts, and he is entitled to vacation of the three convictions of criminal vehicular homicide for operating a motor vehicle in a negligent manner while under the influence.
2. Admissibility of Evidence
The admissibility of evidence is determined by the district court. Minn. R. Evid. 104(a). Only relevant evidence is admissible at trial. Minn. R. Evid. 402. This court will reverse an evidentiary ruling in the absence of a clear abuse of discretion. State v. Holscher, 417 N.W.2d 698, 702 (Minn. App. 1988) (citing State v. Olkon, 299 N.W.2d 89, 101 (Minn. 1980)), review denied (Minn. Mar. 18, 1988). If the district court erred in an evidentiary ruling, "a reversal is warranted only when the error substantially influences the jury to convict." State v. Brown, 455 N.W.2d 65, 69 (Minn. App. 1990) (quoting State v. Loebach, 310 N.W.2d 58, 64 (Minn. 1981)), review denied (Minn. July 6, 1990). A court may exclude evidence if its probative value is substantially outweighed by its prejudicial effect. Minn. R. Evid. 403.
Hegstrom argues that because he did not have the chance to examine the victims' car for exculpatory evidence before it was destroyed, the district court committed reversible error in admitting the testimony of two accident reconstructionists regarding how the accident occurred and in admitting photographs of the victims' car. To determine whether destruction of evidence requires a reversal of a conviction, this court must weigh:
(1) whether the destruction was intentional; (2) the strength of the State's case even if the evidence was available; and (3) the possible exculpatory value of the lost or destroyed evidence.
State v. Harris, 407 N.W.2d 456, 460 (Minn. App. 1987), review denied (Minn. July 31, 1987); cf. State v. Friend, 493 N.W.2d 540, 545 (Minn. 1992) (stating that defendant must show that destruction was intentional and exculpatory value of evidence was apparent and material). The evidence must also be of "such a nature that [Hegstrom] would be unable to obtain comparable evidence by other reasonably available means." State v. Nelson, 399 N.W.2d 629, 633 (Minn. App. 1987), review denied (Minn. Apr. 17, 1987). If police intentionally destroy evidence, there is an inference that the police destroyed it because it may have been exculpatory; a defendant is, therefore, presumed to be prejudiced. State v. Schmid, 487 N.W.2d 539, 542 (Minn. App. 1992), review denied (Minn. Sept. 15, 1992).
Hegstrom concedes that there is no evidence to show that the state intentionally destroyed the victims' car, but he asserts the fact that the police released the car to an insurance company is evidence of bad faith. See id. at 542 (stating that police officer's destruction of taped interview was not "justified on a good-faith basis"). There is no evidence that the police acted in bad faith. Trooper Koenen testified that it is a customary practice to release vehicles to their owners after an accident. Furthermore, he testified that he had never been involved in an accident investigation where the police held a vehicle until the case went to court.
But even if the police did intentionally destroy the victims' car, any inference of prejudice to Hegstrom is overcome because he had access to comparable additional evidence. See id. (finding inference of prejudice overcome because there were two other non-police witnesses who could have testified to the contents of destroyed evidence and evidence of guilt "was very strong"). Hegstrom had access to his own vehicle, the accident reconstructionists' reports, more than 70 photographs of the accident scene and both vehicles, and non-police witnesses. Furthermore, Hegstrom has not demonstrated that the car had any exculpatory value as evidence or that having access to the car would have materially influenced the outcome of his trial. We conclude that the district court did not abuse its discretion in admitting the reconstructionists' testimony and the photographs of the victims' car.
Because we vacate Hegstrom's convictions for negligent driving while under the influence, we need not address his argument that the district court abused its discretion in admitting the results of Hegstrom's blood test.
3. Sufficiency of the Evidence
Hegstrom argues that there was insufficient evidence to support his convictions. In a sufficiency of the evidence case, 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). The test is whether
the jury, acting with due regard for the presumption of innocence and for the necessity of overcoming it by proof beyond a reasonable doubt, could reasonably conclude that a defendant was proven guilty * * * .
State v. Alton, 432 N.W.2d 754, 756 (Minn. 1988). A reviewing court must assume that the jury believed the state's witnesses and disbelieved any contrary evidence. State v. Grube, 531 N.W.2d 484, 491 (Minn. 1995). Any inconsistencies in the evidence are resolved in favor of the state. State v. Bergeron, 452 N.W.2d 918, 924 (Minn. 1990).
A conviction based on circumstantial evidence requires stricter scrutiny by a reviewing court. State v. Bias, 419 N.W.2d 480, 484 (Minn. 1988). But circumstantial evidence is entitled to as much weight as any other kind of evidence so long as the circumstances proved are consistent with the hypothesis that the accused is guilty and are inconsistent with any rational hypothesis except that of guilt. Id. A court will only uphold a conviction based on circumstantial evidence if the record shows that reasonable inferences from the circumstantial evidence "are consistent only with the defendant's guilt and inconsistent with any rational hypothesis except that of guilt." State v. Ostrem, 535 N.W.2d 916, 923 (Minn. 1995). The Minnesota Supreme Court has stated that
[t]he stricter standard of appellate review of a conviction based on circumstantial evidence still recognizes a jury is in the best position to evaluate the circumstantial evidence surrounding the crime, and its verdict is entitled to due deference.
State v. Race, 383 N.W.2d 656, 662 (Minn. 1986).
Hegstrom argues that the state did not produce sufficient evidence at trial to show that his acts were the proximate cause of the victims' deaths. This court has stated that to prove a defendant guilty of criminal vehicular homicide, the state must show that the defendant was a proximate cause of a victim's death and that there was no intervening cause, in which the defendant did not participate and which the defendant could not reasonably have foreseen. State v. Jaworsky, 505 N.W.2d 638, 643 (Minn. App. 1993), review denied (Minn. Sept. 30, 1993). There is ample record evidence to show that Hegstrom's truck hit the victims' car from the rear, causing the car to roll down an embankment and into a creek. There is no evidence of an intervening cause of the accident.
Hegstrom further argues that, although there is evidence to show that he was negligent, there is insufficient evidence that he drove in a grossly negligent manner. Gross negligence does not require willful and wanton disregard or reckless conduct but is defined as very great negligence or absence of even slight care. State v. Hegstrom, 543 N.W.2d 698, 702-03 (Minn. App. 1996), review denied (Minn. Apr. 16, 1996). "A sufficient degree of inattention to the road could constitute a lack of `slight care,' that is gross negligence." Id. at 703 (citing State v. Tinklenberg, 292 Minn. 271, 273, 194 N.W.2d 590, 591 (1972)).
There is evidence to show that (1) Hegstrom was looking out the right window of his truck and did not see the victims' car before colliding with it; (2) Hegstrom was driving approximately 80 miles per hour; and (3) he did not apply his brakes before impact. We conclude that this evidence shows a sufficient degree of inattention to the road to support Hegstrom's convictions for gross negligence. Again, because we vacate Hegstrom's convictions for driving while under the influence, we need not address whether there is sufficient evidence to support those convictions.
Hegstrom contends that the district court abused its discretion in imposing multiple consecutive sentences, arguing that the sentences unfairly exaggerate the criminality of his conduct. Generally, Minnesota law bars multiple sentencing where there are multiple offenses committed as part of the same behavioral incident. Minn. Stat. § 609.035, subd. 1 (1996). But multiple sentences are permissible if there are multiple victims and the sentences do not "unfairly exaggerate the criminality of the defendant's conduct." State v. Wallace, 327 N.W.2d 85, 87 (Minn. 1982) (allowing multiple sentencing even where two offenses could "otherwise be deemed to have been committed during a single course of conduct" because there were two victims). The multiple-victim exception applies to both intentional act offenses and negligence or strict-liability offenses. See State v. Gartland, 330 N.W.2d 881, 883 (Minn. 1983). Multiple consecutive sentences are not a departure where an offender is convicted of multiple current felony convictions for crimes against different persons. Minn. Sent. Guidelines II.F; Wallace, 327 N.W.2d at 87. Whether consecutive sentencing exaggerates the criminality of the offense is determined by looking to sentences in similar cases. State v. Lee, 491 N.W.2d 895, 902 (Minn. 1992).
The Minnesota Supreme Court has upheld consecutive sentences involving criminal vehicular homicide or injury with multiple victims. See State v. Chaklos, 528 N.W.2d 225, 227 (Minn. 1995) (upholding consecutive sentencing where defendant hit rear of victim's car while intoxicated, killing one woman and severely injuring another). Because Hegstrom's conduct caused the death of three people and injury to another, we conclude that consecutive sentencing does not exaggerate the criminality of his conduct. For these reasons, we conclude that the district court did not abuse its discretion in imposing multiple consecutive sentences.
Affirmed in part and vacated in part.