This opinion will be unpublished and

may not be cited except as provided by

Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (1998).




State of Minnesota,



Ronnie Lajuan Russell,


Filed August 10, 1999


Parker, Judge[*]

Hennepin County District Court

File No. 98051223

Mike Hatch, Attorney General, Suite 1400, NCL Tower, 445 Minnesota Street, St. Paul, MN 55101, and

Amy Klobuchar, Hennepin County Attorney, Linda K. Jenny, Assistant County Attorney, C-2000 Government Center, Minneapolis, MN 55487 (for respondent)

John M. Stuart, State Public Defender, Susan J. Andrews, Assistant Public Defender, 2829 University Avenue S.E., No. 600, Minneapolis, MN 55414 (for appellant)

Considered and decided by Short, Presiding Judge, Peterson, Judge, and Parker Judge.



Appellant Ronnie Lajuan Russell was convicted of four counts of second-degree assault, in violation of Minn. Stat. § 609.222, subd. 1 (1998). Russell appeals, alleging that the trial court abused her discretion by instructing the jury on transferred intent. Russell also alleges that his sentence of four consecutive 30-month terms of imprisonment unfairly exaggerates the criminality of his conduct. We affirm.



"In reviewing a trial court's jury instructions, we examine the record for abuse of discretion * * *." State v. Lory, 559 N.W.2d 425, 427 (Minn. App. 1997) (citations omitted), review denied (Minn. Apr. 15, 1997). It is well established that the trial judge may, in her discretion, give additional instructions in response to a jury's question on any point of law. Minn. R. Crim. P. 26.03, subd. 19(3). The court has the discretion to decide whether to amplify previous instructions, reread previous instructions, or give no response at all. Id. If a jury is confused, additional instructions clarifying those previously given may be appropriate since

the interests of justice require that the jury have a full understanding of the case and the rules of law applicable to the facts under deliberation.

Stayberg v. Henderson, 277 Minn. 16, 19, 151 N.W.2d 290, 292 (1967) (citation omitted).

Appellant argues that the trial court abused her discretion when she read the transferred intent instruction because the instruction was not responsive to the question the jury posed. According to appellant, the "jury wanted to know whether the act alone, without any intent to cause fear, is sufficient to establish an assault."

This case arises out of an incident on May 16, 1998. B. M., appellant's ex-girlfriend and mother of his 19-month-old twins, was driving her four-year-old nephew home. The twins were in the back seat of the car, and B. M.'s nephew was sitting on the front seat on the passenger side of the car. At the intersection of Lake and Park, in Minneapolis, appellant approached the car and, standing about an arm's length away, pulled out a gun and fired a single shot into the car, narrowly missing one of the children.

The complaint charged appellant with four counts of second-degree assault. During its deliberations, the jury asked three questions, two of which were on intent. In responding to the jury's first question on intent, the trial judge declined to give an instruction on transferred intent because she found that "[appellant's] rights outweighed the value of fully instructing the jury as to that principle." But, when the jury asked for further instruction, the judge decided to give the transferred-intent JIG instruction, determining that

[W]e're in a totally different posture, where the jury has asked for further instruction.

[I]n light of the very recent new Supreme Court case reminding * * * the trial court, that we do have a very strong duty to make sure that the jury is given the full information about a trial. The full information about the matters that it is trying to determine.

The doctrine of transferred intent applies primarily where an unintended victim is injured by the assaultive act. Here, no one was injured. The supreme court's analysis in State v. Hough, 585 N.W.2d 393 (Minn. 1998) indicates the issue is not transferred intent but what was the natural and probable consequence of firing the shot into a car with multiple occupants.

Because of the wide latitude afforded the trial judge in choosing the appropriate jury instructions and the jury's two requests for guidance on the issue of intent, we cannot say the trial court abused her discretion when she gave additional instructions to a confused jury. We hold that, while it was not necessary to give the transferred-intent instruction, the instruction did not harm the appellant because the testimony presented sufficient evidence for a jury to infer that appellant "intended the natural and probable consequences of his actions," i.e., to assault the victims. Hough at 396.


Minnesota law provides that if a person's conduct constitutes more than one offense, that person may be punished for only one of the offenses. State v. Whittaker, 568 N.W.2d 440, 453 (Minn. 1997). But when multiple victims are involved, it is permissible to sentence the defendant to multiple sentences for multiple crimes arising from the same behavioral incident. Id. The only limitation is that the multiple sentences must not unfairly exaggerate the criminality of the defendant's conduct. State v. Marquardt, 294 N.W.2d 849, 851 (Minn. 1980). It is widely accepted that the trial court is in the best position to evaluate the offender's conduct and weigh sentencing options.

Appellant argues that, when comparing appellant's sentence to sentences received by offenders for similar conduct, appellant's sentence is unjustifiably harsh. Accordingly, appellant asks this court to merge the sentences, reducing appellant's sentence to 36 months.

Here, the trial judge considered that appellant, in broad daylight, with neither intoxication nor heat of passion as an issue, shot into his ex-girlfriend's car, knowing that there were children present. The court stated:

Any person who fires into a moving vehicle knows perfectly well, or I mean the logical consequences of that are, that there would likely be an accident involving that vehicle, even if nobody in the car is actually hit with the bullet.

In this case, the bullet went into the car near where one of the twins was sitting.

We disagree with appellant's argument. Four people were put in danger of physical harm by use of a dangerous weapon. All four victims were within range of serious injury. Ricochets within the confined area of an automobile may easily injure more than one person. We conclude that the sentence imposed by the trial court did not exaggerate the criminality of this act; indeed, we find it difficult to exaggerate the callous criminality of this act.

Because Minnesota law supports the trial judge's decision, we hold that the trial court did not abuse her sentencing discretion. See Minn. Sent. Guidelines II.F.; State v. Abeyta, 328 N.W.2d 443 (Minn. 1983) (two separate convictions were affirmed after the defendant shot at a house occupied by two people); State v. Rieck, 286 N.W.2d 724, 726-27 (Minn. 1979) (five consecutive sentences for aggravated assault against five different victims who were in the same home).


[*] Retired judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals, serving by appointment pursuant to Minn. Const. art. VI, § 10.