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State v. Pass

Supreme Court of Minnesota

June 26, 2013

State of Minnesota, Appellant/Cross-Respondent,
v.
Taylor James Pass, Respondent/Cross-Appellant.

Lori Swanson, Attorney General, Saint Paul, Minnesota; and James C. Backstrom, Dakota County Attorney, Phillip D. Prokopowicz, Chief Deputy Dakota County Attorney, Hastings, Minnesota, for appellant/cross-respondent.

Mark D. Nyvold, Special Assistant State Public Defender, Fridley, Minnesota, for respondent/cross-appellant.

Stras, J. Took no part, Lillehaug, J.

SYLLABUS

1. The district court's dismissal of the State's criminal complaint on due process grounds did not constitute an acquittal on the merits for double jeopardy purposes.

2. The exclusion of alternative-perpetrator evidence under Minn. R. Evid. 403 did not violate the respondent's due process right to present a complete defense.

Reversed and remanded.

OPINION

STRAS, Justice.

A jury acquitted respondent/cross-appellant Taylor James Pass of two counts of second-degree murder for the stabbing death of Tina San Roman, but deadlocked on two other counts for the stabbing of a second victim, O.A.R. In preparation for a retrial on the unresolved counts, the district court excluded the State's evidence related to San Roman's death, concluding that the evidence would substantially prejudice Pass, confuse the issues, and mislead the jury. The court also granted Pass's motion to dismiss the remaining counts on the ground that exclusion of Pass's alternative-perpetrator evidence related to San Roman's death would violate Pass's due process right to present a complete defense. The court of appeals affirmed the district court's decision. We reverse and remand to the district court for further proceedings.

I.

The State charged Pass by criminal complaint for his alleged role in an incident that occurred on April 7, 2009, in the garage of San Roman's home. The State alleged in the complaint that Pass killed San Roman by stabbing her in the abdomen, and then attacked O.A.R. with a knife when O.A.R. attempted to assist San Roman. The complaint charged Pass with two counts of second-degree murder for San Roman's death and both second-degree assault and attempted second-degree murder for the attack on O.A.R.

At Pass's trial, the State presented O.A.R.'s testimony, which established the following facts. On the evening of April 7, O.A.R. saw San Roman lying on the floor in the garage with Pass standing over her. Pass told O.A.R. that San Roman had stopped breathing and needed assistance. When O.A.R. attempted to assist San Roman, Pass cut his neck with a knife. Pass stabbed O.A.R. a second time in the back while the two of them struggled. Pass eventually fled from the residence, after which O.A.R. called 911. Before medical personnel transported him to the hospital, O.A.R. identified Pass as the person who attacked him and gave the police a description of the vehicle in which Pass fled the scene.

A short time later, the police stopped Pass's vehicle. During the stop, the arresting officer noticed blood on Pass's clothing, forearm, face, and hands. The blood on Pass's clothing and skin matched O.A.R.'s DNA profile and some of the blood on Pass's pants matched San Roman's DNA profile. The police also searched San Roman's residence, where they observed bloodstains on the driveway and recovered two knives from the garage floor. The blood collected from the driveway matched Pass's DNA profile.

The jury found Pass not guilty of the two counts of second-degree murder, but deadlocked on the assault and attempted murder counts that related to the attack on O.A.R. In preparation for a retrial on the unresolved counts, the State moved to admit evidence connected to San Roman's injuries and death in order to demonstrate Pass's motive for attacking O.A.R. The district court concluded, however, that such evidence would be inadmissible under State v. Wakefield, 278 N.W.2d 307 (Minn. 1979), because the jury had acquitted Pass of the offenses related to San Roman's death. Pass then moved to dismiss the remaining counts. The court denied Pass's motion, concluding that "the exclusion of the acquitted-crimes evidence [would] not significantly reduce the likelihood of a successful prosecution in light of all the other admissible evidence available to the State." The State filed a pretrial appeal from the district court's evidentiary ruling. As relevant here, the court of appeals ...


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