1. The trial court's final charge to the jury must be delivered orally.
2. When instructions concerning the presumption of innocence and the requirement of proof beyond a reasonable doubt are omitted from the trial court's final charge, the state's burden of proving all elements of a charge beyond reasonable doubt is diluted and obscured and results in denial of due process requiring a new trial.
Heard, considered and decided by the court en banc.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Anderson, Russell A., Justice.
Appellant Dwane David Peterson was convicted of kidnapping and aggravated robbery, in violation of Minn. Stat. § 609.25, subd. 1 (2002) and Minn. Stat. § 609.245, subd. 1 (2002), and was sentenced by the trial court to consecutive prison terms of 78 and 48 months. The court of appeals affirmed the conviction against claims by Peterson that the failure to include instructions on the presumption of innocence, burden of proof and proof beyond a reasonable doubt in the final charge to the jury was reversible error. Concluding that the final charge given to the jury diluted the requirement that the state prove every element of a charged offense beyond a reasonable doubt and amounted to a denial of due process, we reverse and remand for new trial.
On July 19, 2001, as 78-year-old Robert Berg was getting into his car at the Mankato public library parking lot, Peterson approached and handed Berg a note that said "I have a gun, and I know how to use it." The handle of a gun, later identified as a pellet air gun, protruded from Peterson's waistband. Peterson told Berg to "shove over," got into the car and drove off.
While driving toward Minneapolis, Peterson stopped at a gas station in Jordan and as he was preparing to purchase gas at the pump, Berg escaped from the car and fled into the station. As Peterson approached the station "swinging" the gun, a station employee called 911. Peterson relinquished the gun once he entered the station and saw that the employee was talking to law enforcement authorities. Police arrived shortly and arrested Peterson.
Peterson was charged by complaint in Blue Earth County with kidnapping, first-degree aggravated robbery, theft of a motor vehicle, second-degree assault, and terroristic threats. At trial, shortly after the jury panel was chosen and sworn, the court advised the jurors that he was going to give them "some instructions to assist [them] in [their] participation in the trial." The court then read to the jurors a series of instructions that included patterned instructions from Chapter 3 of the Jury Instruction Guide concerning the presumption of innocence and the definition of proof beyond a reasonable doubt. 10 Minn. Dist. Judges Ass'n, Minnesota Practice—Jury Instruction Guides, Criminal, CRIMJIG 3.02 and 3.03 (4th ed. 1999) ("Instructions to Jury at Close of Case"). *fn1
Midway through the instructions, the court asked the bailiff to provide each juror with a written copy of the court's remaining instructions in a document titled "State v. Dwane David Peterson: Law Regarding Charges." The court explained to the jury that the written copy of the remaining instructions related to the law applicable to the charges, were "preliminary in nature" and would likely be altered. The court said: "I'm going to read this document to you so that it's clearly stated on the record" and told the jurors to "follow along with me as I read it. You will not go ahead of me. That's one danger[.] * * * I want to make sure that we go through it together."
The court then completed its instructions by reading to the jury the document which consisted only of the statutory definitions of the offenses charged, the elements of each offense, instructions that each element must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt in order to return a guilty verdict, and additional instructions concerning questions on the guilty verdict forms.*fn2 While reading the instructions, the court discovered an error in the special interrogatory for the use of a firearm and asked the jurors to "pencil in" the correction. The court advised the jurors that they were receiving copies of the "Law Regarding Charges" document so that they could "explore" the language and issues during the trial. The court also told the jurors that the instructions were a "work in progress" and that any changes to the instructions would be addressed at the end of the trial.*fn3
The "Law Regarding Charges" document that was distributed to the jury included a definition of a dangerous weapon that stated only that a firearm, whether loaded or unloaded, was a dangerous weapon. At the close of the state's case, the court amended the definition to add that a firearm, "even if temporarily inoperable," was a dangerous weapon, eliminating any defense aimed at casting doubt on the operability of the firearm. At the conclusion of the evidence, the court collected from the jury the "Law Regarding Charges" document.
Prior to closing arguments, the court proceeded with the final charge to the jurors. The court told the jurors that he was not going to repeat "everything said" previously but six copies of a document titled "Final Instruction to Jury Panel" would be made available during deliberations for "review" if the jurors "deem[ed] it necessary." Those instructions not repeated included the presumption of innocence and the definition of proof ...