Dakota County District Court File No. K2-01-2646.
Considered and decided by Hudson, Presiding Judge; Randall, Judge; and Forsberg, Judge.*fn1
Convictions for possession of pictorial representations of minors under Minn. Stat. § 617.247 (2002) must be reversed where the evidence is insufficient to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant possessed the material and either knew or should have known of its content.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hudson, Judge
Appellant Brian Victor Myrland challenges his convictions for possession of pictorial representations of minors under Minn. Stat. § 617.247 (2002). Because the evidence is insufficient to support the convictions, we reverse on that basis. We do not reach the other issues raised by appellant, but we do note that trial errors occurred which, taken cumulatively, might also have justified a new trial in this matter.
On May 14, 2001, students at Highland Elementary School in Apple Valley approached the school's computer lab monitor, Lisa Losure, to tell her that they had found something "icky" at a printer in the lab. Losure investigated and found two printed Internet photographs, both depicting adult men with exposed genitals. Losure immediately suspected appellant Brian Myrland, a fifth-grade teacher, of having viewed and printed the images. This was because some months earlier, Myrland had approached Losure and told her that he had viewed some "inappropriate" websites on his classroom computer. Because he seemed genuinely contrite and embarrassed,
Losure helped Myrland "clean up" his computer to ensure that the computer did not contain any inappropriate images that students might stumble across. Losure did not look at any of the websites Myrland had visited and she did not report his conduct to school administration. After discovering the pictures on May 14, Losure walked through the school to determine which computers were running the Internet at that time. She found four computers that had Internet browsers open, including the computer in Myrland's classroom.
After the incident in the computer lab, school officials conducted a search of Myrland's classroom computer, focusing on the computer's "cookie" files, including several URLs*fn2 with pornographic references such as "boys" and "sex teens." They found numerous images and references to all manner of pornographic material. The school confronted Myrland, and he admitted to having used several other school computers as well to view adult male pornography during non-school hours. These computers were located in the classrooms of other teachers. His practice was to find images on the Internet that pleased him, then print them off on school printers, and take them home.
During the school's examination of the other computers Myrland admitted to having used, school personnel found references to several websites that appeared to contain sexual images of minors, and contacted the police. The websites contained terms that police associated with child pornography, such as "illegal teens" and "hardcore action of teen boys." Myrland told police he had never viewed or even attempted to view sexual images of minors, and that he had no interest in such material. Myrland indicated that his primary interest was adult, male, gay pornography. When police searched Myrland's home, they found some adult homosexual pornography, but no child pornography.
Myrland was charged with one count of possession of pictorial representations of minors under Minn. Stat. § 617.247 (2002). On Myrland's motion, the district court dismissed the complaint, finding the statute unconstitutional because it impermissibly shifted the burden of proof on an essential element of the crime (the age of the person depicted) to the defendant. The state appealed the ruling, and this court reversed in State v. Myrland, 644 N.W.2d 847 (Minn. App. 2002), review denied (Minn. Aug. 6, 2002), cert. denied 537 U.S. 1019, 123 S.Ct. 537 (2002). The complaint against Myrland was reinstated, but was later amended to charge Myrland with three separate counts of possession of pictorial representations of minors in violation of Minn. Stat. § 617.247, subd. 4 (2002). Each count corresponded to a computer on which child pornography was found.
After numerous pre-trial motions and hearings, a three-day trial was held before a jury. Witnesses for the state testified that searches of the computers Myrland admitted to using revealed thousands of pornographic images, a few of which depicted what appeared to be young teenage boys engaged in sexual behavior. On cross-examination, witness Bonnie Halvorson, the school district's technical support manager, admitted that it was impossible to determine who originally downloaded the images or viewed them, and that anyone with access to the computers could have done so. The school district's human resources manager also testified for the state, stating that when the investigation into Myrland's activities began, Myrland was placed on administrative leave. Myrland objected to this testimony and the ...