Hennepin County District Court File Nos. 02037400, 02054994
Considered and decided by Willis, Presiding Judge; Klaphake, Judge; and
A jury instruction materially and prejudicially misstates the law when it provides that a defendant possessed a firearm if, inter alia, he exercised "authority, dominion or control" over the firearm.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Willis, Judge
On appeal from his conviction of felon in possession of a firearm, appellant argues that there is insufficient evidence to support the conviction and that the jury instruction on that charge misstated the law. We conclude that the evidence was sufficient, but because we also conclude that the jury instruction materially and prejudicially misstated the law regarding constructive possession of a firearm, we reverse and remand for a new trial.
On the morning of May 10, 2002, officers of the Minneapolis Police Department executed a search warrant at an apartment on Clinton Avenue South in Minneapolis. Upon entering, police met and detained appellant Michael Montgomery Porter and his girlfriend, Camille Alexander. In searching the apartment, the police found drug paraphernalia and 1.59 grams of crack cocaine in a kitchen cabinet. In a nearby kitchen closet, police found 4.22 grams of powder cocaine and, within inches of the powder cocaine, a.38-caliber handgun. Because of a 1996 bank-robbery conviction, Porter was prohibited from possessing a firearm by Minn. Stat. § 624.713, subd. 1(b) (2000).
Porter admitted to the police that the crack cocaine belonged to him, but he denied any knowledge of either the handgun or the powder cocaine. The state charged Porter with third-degree possession of the powder cocaine, in violation of Minn. Stat. §§ 152.023, subds. 2(1), 3(a), 609.101, subd. 3, 609.11 (2000); fifth-degree possession of the crack cocaine, in violation of Minn. Stat. § 152.025, subd. 2(1) (2000); and prohibited person in possession of a firearm, in violation of Minn. Stat. §§ 624.713, subds. (1)(b), 2, 609.11 (2000).
A jury trial was held in September 2002. The court used CRIMJIG 20.20 as its proposed jury instruction on the charge of possession of the powder cocaine. That instruction provides that a defendant possessed a controlled substance if it was "in a place under the defendant's exclusive control to which other people did not normally have access, or if the defendant knowingly exercised dominion and control over (the controlled substance)." 10A Minnesota Practice, CRIMJIG 20.20 (2000) (emphasis added). The court's proposed jury instruction on the firearm-possession charge was a modified version of CRIMJIG 32.21 and provided that Porter possessed the firearm if he "knowingly. . . exercised authority, dominion or control over the firearm. Possession may be sole or joint."*fn1 (Emphasis added.)
Before the district court instructed the jury, Porter requested that the court use the definition of "possessed" in CRIMJIG 20.20 for both the charge of possession of powder cocaine and the charge of possession of a firearm. Over Porter's objection, the district court instructed the jury using the proposed instructions.
The jury found Porter guilty of possession of a firearm but not guilty of possession of powder cocaine. Porter moved the court for a judgment of acquittal on the firearm charge or, alternatively, for a new trial, arguing that the evidence was insufficient to support the conviction, that the jury instruction on the firearm-possession charge did not accurately state the law, and that the not-guilty verdict on the charge of possession of the powder cocaine was legally inconsistent with the guilty verdict on the firearm-possession charge. The district court denied the motion, concluding that the jury instructions accurately stated the law and that the different verdicts on the powder-cocaine and firearm-possession charges could be ...