may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd.3 (1998).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
State of Minnesota,
Dan James Wolff,
Filed May 25, 1999
Ramsey County District Court
File No. K898195
Susan Gaertner, Ramsey County Attorney, Darrell C. Hill, Assistant County Attorney, 50 West Kellogg Boulevard, Suite 315, St. Paul, MN 55102-1657 (for respondent)
Douglas W. Thomson, Lisa Lodin Peralta, 332 Minnesota Street, Suite W-1260, St. Paul, MN 55101 (for appellant)
Considered and decided by Anderson, Presiding Judge, Crippen, Judge, and Amundson, Judge.
Appellant was found guilty of manslaughter in the first degree in violation of Minn. Stat. § 609.20(1) (1996) after submission to the district court based on the record. Appellant challenges the sufficiency of the evidence to sustain his conviction, the failure of the district court to make specific findings related to his defense of dwelling claim, and the district court's order admitting three statements made prior to receiving a Miranda warning. We affirm.
The incident prompting this appeal occurred on January 14, 1998, in an apartment building where the victim, Jessie Erin Wells, and appellant were residents. Wells lived in apartment eight and appellant lived in apartment three. According to statements from other tenants and the building owner, it was common for Wells and appellant to argue when they were drinking heavily.
Dale Negen lived in the building with his wife, Theresa Negen. Dale Negen told officers he had broken up two fights between appellant and Wells earlier that same evening.
Wells ate dinner with another tenant, Warren Yorks, and left at approximately 8:00 p.m. to return to his apartment. Shortly after Wells left, Yorks heard Wells yelling at appellant. Yorks looked out his peephole and saw Wells banging on appellant's door. Wells and appellant were yelling at each other through the door. Yorks heard appellant threaten to kill Wells two times. Wells tore the crucifix off appellant's door and threw it down the stairs before heading downstairs himself. Appellant left his apartment and threw an object at Wells. Negen, who had come out of his apartment, saw the object hit Wells. Yorks and Negen said Wells went back upstairs. Yorks saw appellant go back in his apartment as if to get something and come back into the hallway. Wells and appellant began fighting at the top of the stairs and appellant struck Wells five or six times. During the time Yorks watched the fight, Wells never went inside appellant's apartment. Negen came up the stairs to attempt to stop the fight. Yorks, thinking the fight was over, left his door and headed to his bathroom. Negen saw Wells clutch his side, noticed he was bleeding, and observed him stumbling down the stairs. Negen saw appellant holding a large knife, but did not see Wells holding anything in his hands. Theresa Negen came out of her apartment in time to see Wells falling down the stairs and bleeding.
The Negens saw appellant with the knife yelling, "I'll kill all you mother----ers." Appellant then ran into his apartment and slammed the door. The building owner arrived and called the police. Officers Kenneth Jensen and Thomas Schmidt were among the first to arrive at the scene. The Negens were with Wells and Theresa Negen told the officers "Dan" had stabbed Wells. Officer Jensen noticed Wells was bleeding heavily and saw two stab wounds. He also noticed a round black object lying on the stairs. Theresa Negen identified appellant for Officer Schmidt.
Officer Schmidt saw appellant at the top of the stairs and drew his gun on him and told him to get on the ground. Appellant was handcuffed and placed outside his apartment. Officer Jensen observed Wells and noticed two stab wounds just under the left rib cage. The officers observed a pool of blood in front of appellant's apartment. There were blood spatters on the door. Jensen's report states it was clear a struggle had occurred in front of appellant's apartment.
The officers asked appellant what happened. Officer Jensen told appellant he needed to know how many times appellant stabbed Wells so Jensen could tell the medics the extent of the injuries. Appellant responded, "I stabbed him two times." As Officer Jensen looked through the open apartment door from the hallway, he could see a single spatter of blood on the wall just inside the door. He followed a trail of blood drops to the kitchen sink. He noticed a 6-7" single-blade hunting knife in the sink. The handle was wrapped in a towel and water on the blade indicated it had just been washed. Officer Jensen noticed faint blood stains on the knife blade.
Appellant discussed the incident with several different officers at the scene. Appellant's version of the incident differed drastically from the chronology recited by Negen and Yorks.
Officer Burton saw an object next to appellant's refrigerator resembling the object found on the stairway. Officer Anderson said both the apartment and appellant smelled of alcohol.
Appellant was interviewed by Sgt. Neil Nelson at 10:24 that night. Sgt. Nelson went over appellant's Miranda rights and appellant initialed each right indicating he understood it. Before appellant invoked his right to counsel, he told Sgt. Nelson the same story he told the officers at the apartment. Appellant told Sgt. Nelson the stabbing occurred after a physical struggle inside his apartment. Appellant stated Wells charged him, but he was not sure if Wells impaled himself on the knife or if he had stabbed him. Appellant said the stabbing occurred as he was punching Wells after telling him, "I'm going to let you have it." Appellant said he opened the door and saw Wells at the bottom of the steps and called 911 for an ambulance. Appellant told Sgt. Nelson he put the knife in the kitchen sink.
After a Rasmussen hearing, the district court denied appellant's motion to suppress the three statements made to officers at the apartment and granted the motion to suppress the statements made to Sgt. Nelson after appellant requested an attorney. On July 6, 1998, appellant waived his right to a jury trial and the matter was submitted to the district court based on the record. On July 7, 1998, the district court filed findings of fact, conclusions of law, and finding of guilt of first-degree manslaughter in violation of Minn. Stat. § 609.20(1) (1996). This appeal followed.
Appellant argues the evidence was not sufficient to rebut beyond a reasonable doubt appellant's claim of defense of dwelling and to support the district court's finding of guilt of first-degree manslaughter in violation of Minn. Stat. § 609.20(1) (1996).
Where there is a challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence, our review on appeal 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) (citing State v. Martin, 293 N.W.2d 54, 55 (Minn. 1980)).
A reviewing court must assume "the jury believed the state's witnesses and disbelieved any evidence to the contrary." State v. Moore, 438 N.W.2d 101, 108 (Minn. 1989) (citing State v. Wahlberg, 296 N.W.2d 408, 411 (Minn. 1980)).
We will not disturb the verdict if 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 of the offense charged.
State v. Alton, 432 N.W.2d 754, 756 (Minn. 1988) (citing State v. McCullum, 289 N.W.2d 89 (Minn. 1979)).
It has also been established that a trial court's findings, after a defendant has waived his right to a jury trial, are entitled to the same weight as a jury verdict. See, e.g., State v. Bouwman, 354 N.W.2d 1, 4 (Minn. 1984).
Appellant's recollection of the events of January 14, 1998, differs from other witnesses. Appellant argues his actions were in defense of his dwelling. The elements of defense of dwelling are set out in Minn. Stat. § 609.06, subd. 1 (1996):
[R]easonable force may be used upon or toward the person of another without the other's consent when the following circumstances exist or the actor reasonably believes them to exist:
* * * *
(4) when used by any person in lawful possession of real or personal property, or by another assisting the person in lawful possession, in resisting a trespass upon or other unlawful interference with such property[.]
Minn. Stat. §609.065 (1996) outlines the use of deadly force in the defense of a dwelling. The statute states:
The intentional taking of a life of another is not authorized by section 609.06, except when necessary in resisting or preventing an offense which the actor reasonably believes exposes the actor or another to great bodily harm or death, or preventing the commission of a felony in the actor's place of abode.
State v. Pendleton, 567 N.W.2d 265, 268 (Minn. 1997), described how these two statutes work together by setting out the elements necessary to justify the use of deadly force. The evidence presented must show: (1) this defendant was preventing the commission of a felony in his or her home at the time deadly force was used; (2) the defendant's belief was reasonable under the circumstances; and (3) the use of deadly force was reasonable under the circumstances in light of the danger to be apprehended. Id. at 270.
Appellant has the burden of presenting evidence on each factor to raise the defense. Id. Once defense of dwelling has been raised, the state bears the burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt the killing was not justified. State v. Austin, 332 N.W.2d 21, 23 (Minn. 1983). In order to meet this burden, the state need only prove the nonexistence of any one of the factors. State v. Buchanan, 431 N.W.2d 542, 548 (Minn. 1988).
The district court was not compelled to believe appellant's statements about the altercation with Wells because there was no other support for appellant's version of the fight. In State v. Fidel, 451 N.W.2d 350, 354 (Minn.App. 1990), review denied (Minn. Apr. 13, 1990), this court held that, where the only evidence at trial to support a claim of self-defense comes from the defendant, the jury is not required to credit such testimony. In this case, the district court was not required to credit appellant's testimony. Respondent proved the nonexistence of all three elements of appellant's defense of dwelling claim based on the statements made by the other witnesses. Appellant is the only witness to state the struggle occurred in his apartment. Further, appellant is the only one to state he was not the aggressor and that deadly force was necessary to counter the danger Wells presented. The district court chose not to credit appellant's testimony based on the conflict with the other witnesses' statements, which show appellant and Wells fought in the hallway, appellant was the aggressor by throwing an object at Wells after he had left the hallway near appellant's apartment, and appellant stabbed an unarmed Wells with a large kitchen knife.
The district court reasonably concluded respondent rebutted the defense of dwelling claim beyond a reasonable doubt.
Appellant also argues the district court did not make specific findings to show it rejected appellant's defense of dwelling claim. After a bench trial, the district court must make specific written findings regarding the facts essential to the general finding within seven days after the general finding. Minn. R. Crim. P. 26.01, subd. 2. The purpose of the findings is to assist the appellate court in its review of a conviction from a nonjury trial. State v. Scarver, 458 N.W.2d 167, 168 (Minn. App. 1990).
However, if the district court omits an essential factual finding, it shall be deemed to have made a finding consistent with the general finding. Id. at 168-69.
This court outlined the issue in State v. Oanes, 543 N.W.2d 658, 663 (Minn. App. 1996), where it stated:
Even if the trial court had an obligation sua sponte to provide [defendant] with a complete justification of its decision, its omission of the issue of entrapment is not fatal, but requires us to imply a finding that is consistent with the trial court's determination of guilt.
Therefore, the fact the district court did not make a specific finding concerning appellant's defense of dwelling claim is harmless error because this court implies a finding consistent with the district court's ultimate finding of guilt.
Appellant argues that the district court erred in denying his motion to suppress the three statements made to the police officers at appellant's apartment prior to receiving a Miranda warning.
Appellate courts independently review district court determinations "regarding custody and the necessity of a Miranda warning." State v. Miller, 573 N.W.2d 661, 670 (Minn. 1998) (citation omitted).
The United States Supreme Court has directed that courts avoid establishing rigid exclusionary rules as to subsequent voluntary and informed confessions, explaining that the relevant inquiry should focus on when subsequent statements were voluntarily made. Oregon v. Elstad, 470 U.S. 298, 318, 105 S. Ct. 1285, 1297-98 (1985). The Minnesota Supreme Court has held that a failure to give a required Miranda warning, by itself, does not render involuntary, and thus inadmissible, any subsequent statement made after giving a Miranda warning. State v. Scott, 584 N.W.2d 412, 419 (Minn. 1998); State v. Champion, 533 N.W.2d 40, 44 (Minn. 1995).
A reviewing court independently determining whether a confession or statement was involuntary or coerced must consider all relevant factors including:
"age, maturity, intelligence, education, experience, ability to comprehend, lack of or adequacy of warnings, length and legality of detention, nature of interrogation, physical deprivations, [and] limits on access to counsel and friends."
State v. Patricelli, 357 N.W.2d 89, 92 (Minn. 1984) (quoting State v. Linder, 268 N.W.2d 734, 735 (Minn. 1978)). While the district court did not explicitly document its analysis of these factors, evidence contained in the record demonstrates appellant properly waived his Miranda rights after receiving an adequate Miranda warning.
If police fully advise an accused of his or her Miranda rights and the accused indicates that he or she understands the rights but nevertheless gives an incriminating statement, the state is deemed to have met its burden of proving that the accused knowing and intelligently waived his or her rights.
State v. Jones, 566 N.W.2d 317, 322 (Minn. 1997) (citing State v. Williams, 535 N.W.2d 277, 286 (Minn. 1995)).
Appellant was fully advised of his Miranda rights and initialed and signed the form outlining his rights. Appellant then explained to Sgt. Nelson his version of the incident. The statements made by appellant to Sgt. Nelson during this interview were almost identical to the challenged statements made to Officers Jensen, Schmidt, and Burton. As a result, the subsequent confession was properly admitted.
A district court's error in admitting evidence does not necessitate reversal if admission of the evidence was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. State v. Juarez, 572 N.W.2d 286, 291 (Minn. 1997). When determining whether evidence is harmless beyond a reasonable doubt, the court applies the standard of whether the verdict is surely unattributable to the error. Id. at 292.
Even if appellant's statements to Officers Jensen, Schmidt, and Burton were excluded by the district court, appellant made similar statements to Sgt. Nelson after a proper Miranda warning and prior to asking for counsel, all of which leads inescapably to the conclusion that the verdict cannot be attributed to the earlier statements.