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State v. Smith

January 07, 2003

STATE OF MINNESOTA, RESPONDENT,
v.
ERIC NMN SMITH, APPELLANT.



Hennepin County District Court File No. 0105814

Considered and decided by Anderson , Presiding Judge, Stoneburner , Judge, and Wright , Judge.

SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

Instructing a jury in a criminal case that "[y]ou do not have a reasonable doubt if your doubts are based upon speculation * * * " dilutes the reasonable doubt standard and violates a defendant's due process rights.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Stoneburner, Judge

Reversed and remanded

OPINION

Appellant Eric Smith challenges his conviction of motor vehicle theft, arguing that the prosecutor committed misconduct and that the district court erred by failing to remove a juror for cause; abused its discretion by failing to suppress evidence for a discovery violation; abused its discretion by failing to instruct on a lesser-included offense; and erred by diluting the reasonable-doubt standard in jury instructions. Smith also alleges that the district court abused its discretion by sentencing him as a career offender. Because we agree that the jury instruction on reasonable doubt diluted the standard, we reverse and remand.

FACTS

Two Minneapolis police officers on patrol observed a vehicle with license plate numbers that matched the numbers of a stolen vehicle. The officers followed the vehicle, which made a right turn, pulled over, and stopped on the right side of the street. The officers testified that they never lost sight of the vehicle and that they observed the driver get out of the vehicle, walk around the front of the vehicle and approach the squad car, which by that time had stopped with lights activated, behind the stolen vehicle. No one else got out of the vehicle. The driver was later identified as appellant Eric Smith.

Appellant testified that he had been sitting on his aunt's porch and saw a vehicle stop in front of the house. Appellant testified that two men jumped out of the vehicle and ran in different directions. Appellant testified that he then walked to the vehicle, leaned over, looked into the vehicle, and saw evidence of a crime,*fn1 just as the police were coming down the block, so he walked up to the officers to talk to them.

Appellant was arrested and charged with theft of a motor vehicle under Minn. Stat. § 609.52, subd. 2 (17) (2000). The complaint was later amended to include a count of receiving stolen property under Minn. Stat. § 609.53, subd. 1 (2000).

Three days before trial, the state informed appellant's attorney that a pawn ticket belonging to appellant and two checkbooks not in appellant's name had been found in the stolen vehicle. The district court precluded mention of these items during opening statements but denied appellant's motion to suppress the pawn ticket as a sanction for late discovery. During voir dire, the district court denied appellant's motion to excuse a juror for cause. The district court denied appellant's motion to instruct the jury that receiving stolen property is a lesser-included crime. In instructing the jury on reasonable doubt at the beginning and end of the trial, the district court told the jury, "You do not have a reasonable doubt if your doubts are based upon speculation or irrelevant details."

Appellant was convicted and sentenced as a career offender. Appellant's motion for a new trial was denied. This appeal followed.

ISSUES

I. Did the jury instruction on reasonable doubt dilute the beyond-a-reasonable-doubt standard, constituting a violation of due process?

II. Did the district court err by failing to instruct on a lesser-included offense?

III. Did the district court abuse its discretion by failing to exclude evidence as a sanction for a discovery violation?

IV. Did the district court err by denying defense counsel's motion to remove a juror for cause?

Did the district court abuse its discretion by sentencing appellant as ...


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