Stearns County District Court File No. K1012715
Considered and decided by Shumaker, Presiding Judge, Lansing, Judge, and
Where credibility of witnesses is a central, dispositive issue in a criminal trial, hearsay evidence of an unavailable declarant's admission must be admitted when contradictory hearsay evidence has already been admitted without objection at trial.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Gordon W. Shumaker, Judge
Appellant challenges his conviction of being a felon in possession of a firearm and his 60-month prison sentence, arguing that the district court denied him his right to a fair trial because the court refused to admit hearsay evidence from two defense witnesses who stated that a third party admitted selling the gun that appellant was charged with illegally possessing. Appellant argues that the third-party admissions should have been admitted as statements against penal interest because the third party was also barred from possessing the gun. We reverse.
Appellant Thomas Ray Jackson was ineligible to knowingly possess, transport, or receive a firearm because of a prior felony conviction of terroristic threats. Minn. Stat. §á624.713, subd. 1(b) (2000). The state prosecuted Jackson for possessing a pistol, and a jury found him guilty.
Jackson's defense was that it was not he, but rather his companion, Joseph Miles, who possessed and sold a pistol to a bartender. After the sale, Miles told a deputy sheriff that Jackson sold the gun. A few months later, Miles told fellow jail inmates, James Stanley, Evan Dixon, and Louis Borgen, that he had falsely accused Jackson, and in fact it was he who sold the gun.
When the case came to trial, Miles could not be found. The state introduced evidence of Miles's accusation that Jackson sold the gun. Jackson sought to introduce Miles's contradictory jail statement about the false accusation, but the district court sustained the state's hearsay objection. At issue in this appeal is the propriety of the court's preclusion of evidence of Miles's contradictory jail statement. The salient facts from the trial testimony and related proceedings of record follow.
On February 18, 2001, Thomas Ray Jackson met Joseph Miles, an acquaintance, in a St. Cloud bar. When Miles revealed that he was down on his luck, out of work, and living at the Salvation Army, Jackson invited him to come and live at Jackson's home for two months. Jackson also said he would get a job for Miles. Miles accepted, and the men drove to pick up Miles's belongings.
After they arrived at Jackson's house, Miles produced from his belongings a gun case containing a pistol. Because Jackson was a convicted felon and ineligible to possess firearms, he told Miles that the pistol could not be in the house. Miles replied that he intended to sell it anyway and asked if he could keep it in the garage. Jackson asked his wife's opinion, and she said the pistol could not be anywhere on the premises.
Jackson told Miles that he knew of a nearby "biker bar" where the pistol might be sold. The men then left in Jackson's car, picked up a third person, and drove to Doochie's Bad Company Bar in St. Martin.
Once inside the bar, Jackson approached the owner, Douglas Salzl. Jackson testified that he told Salzl that his roommate, whom he introduced, had a pistol for sale, and, when Salzl said he was interested in seeing the gun, Miles went out to the car and brought the gun into the bar. Salzl's version was that Jackson said he was a felon and could not have a gun and that it was Jackson who went outside and brought a pistol back into the bar.
Salzl inspected the pistol and inquired, "Does it fire?" Miles said that it did, and Jackson testified that he replied, "Yeah, it fires, we shot it." Then Salzl, Miles, and Jackson went outside behind the bar so that Salzl could test-fire the pistol. Salzl fired numerous shots into a small refrigerator outside the back door of the bar. Deputy Lehmkuhl, an off-duty sheriff and friend of Salzl's, testified that he had been drinking a few beers when he heard what sounded like fireworks, looked out the back door, saw Salzl, and went back inside the bar because there did not appear to be a problem outside. When Salzl, Miles, and Jackson returned inside the bar, Salzl offered $100 for the gun, but Jackson negotiated a price of $125. Salzl paid that price, and Jackson kept $20.
About a week after the gun sale, Jackson "bounced" a $100 check at Doochie's bar. Later, when Salzl saw Jackson in town and attempted to approach him about the bad check, Jackson drove away so as to elude him. Jackson never paid the check.
About two weeks after the gun sale, Jackson learned that Miles was trying to sell a ring at Doochie's bar. Hearing a description of the ring, Jackson called home and discovered that Miles had stolen his wife's ring. Jackson called the police, and deputy sheriff Timothy Meland came to Jackson's home to investigate. When Meland questioned Miles, he admitted that he took the ring, and Meland gave him a citation for theft. Jackson told Miles to get his belongings and leave. Meland agreed to drive Miles to the Path Recovery Center in St. Cloud.
Meland testified that during the trip to St. Cloud, Miles "mentioned that Mr. Jackson had sold a semiautomatic handgun to the bartender of Doochie's bar." Jackson did not object to this testimony. In later testimony, sheriff's detective Pam Jensen repeated Miles's accusation, stating that "Joseph Miles told Deputy Meland that Jackson sold a gun to Douglas Salzl at the bar." Jackson did not object to Jensen's testimony.
Miles's accusation launched an investigation into Jackson's alleged gun sale. When a deputy asked Salzl about the sale, he said he bought a gun from someone named Joe. Later, Salzl selected Jackson's photograph from an identification array as the person who sold the gun.
Detective Jensen confronted Jackson with Miles's accusation. Jackson denied selling the gun and said that someone named Jason had sold it. In a later discussion with Jensen, Jackson said that Josh was involved in the sale.
At trial, Jackson explained why he gave information about Jason and Josh. Jackson stated that Josh was Josh Rode, an acquaintance, who Jackson knew to be a convicted felon. Jackson said that Rode owned the gun before Miles obtained it and he did not want to get Rode in trouble by disclosing that Rode was involved in the gun sale.
Before the trial began, the district court heard the state's motions in limine to exclude the testimony of Stanley, Dixon, and Borgen, proposed defense witnesses. The court allowed Stanley to testify, and he stated during the trial that Josh Rode had introduced him to Miles and that Miles was in a bar on February 16, 2001, trying to sell a gun. The court sustained the state's hearsay objection to the testimony of Dixon and Borgen, finding the hearsay evidence to be unreliable. These men and three others were in jail with Miles about two months before the trial. Dixon told an investigator that Miles related to the inmates his experience with Jackson and said he falsely told the police that Jackson was the owner of the gun. Miles stated that he was upset with Jackson because of the stolen-ring incident. Borgen told the investigator that Miles said he sold a gun and a stolen ring to a bartender and that Miles "was very cocky and was acting like he got the best of Thomas Jackson" because Jackson had been charged with selling the gun.
After the state completed its case-in-chief, Jackson renewed his request to be allowed to present the testimony of Dixon and Borgen. The state objected, and ...