Polk County District Court File No. 60-CR-11-2509
Lori Swanson, Minnesota Attorney General, St. Paul, Minnesota; and Gregory A. Widseth, Polk County Attorney, Crookston, Minnesota (for respondent)
David Merchant, Chief Appellate Public Defender, Rochelle R. Winn, Assistant State Public Defender, St. Paul, Minnesota (for appellant)
Considered and decided by Worke, Presiding Judge; Johnson, Chief Judge; and Toussaint, Judge.
Toussaint, Judge [*]
Following a stipulated-facts trial, the district court found appellant John Allensworth guilty of felony fifth-degree assault. The assault conviction stemmed from Allensworth's actions as he was arrested for violating a harassment restraining order (HRO). On appeal, Allensworth contends that the evidence is insufficient to sustain the assault conviction. We affirm.
In 2010, the district court granted A.B. an HRO against Allensworth. On October 29, 2011, in violation of the HRO, Allensworth knocked on A.B.'s apartment door and refused to leave when she directed him to do so. A.B. called the police. As the dispatched officers attempted to arrest Allensworth, he was physically and verbally aggressive. As a result of the HRO violation and his behavior during arrest, the state charged Allensworth with felony violation of the HRO,  and felony fifth-degree assault in violation of Minn. Stat. § 609.224, subds. 1(2), 4(b) (2010). Allensworth waived his right to a jury trial and the district court proceeded with a stipulated-facts bench trial. The district court found Allensworth guilty of both of the charged offenses and subsequently sentenced him.
Allensworth challenges the district court's conclusion that the evidence was sufficient to convict him of felony fifth-degree assault. In its order, the district court identified that the assault charge resulted from Allensworth's actions toward one of the responding police officers. The district court determined that the state met its burden of proof because "there was no evidence in the record contradicting [the officer's] report."
A conviction of fifth-degree assault pursuant to Minn. Stat. § 609.224, subd. 1(2) requires the state to prove that a defendant "intentionally inflict[ed] or attempt[ed] to inflict bodily harm upon another." To prove an assault, the evidence must establish that the physical contact to the victim was not accidental but instead was intentionally inflicted. State v. Lindahl, 309 N.W.2d 763, 767 (Minn. 1981). Intent is an inference drawn from the totality of the circumstances and a defendant's statements as to his or her intentions are not binding on the factfinder if the defendant's acts demonstrate a contrary intent. State v. Raymond, 440 N.W.2d 425, 426 (Minn. 1989).
Allensworth asserts that the evidence is insufficient to sustain his assault conviction because there was no evidence of "bodily harm, " nor was there evidence that he possessed the requisite intent. Allensworth's claim regarding bodily harm is accurate—the record contains no indication the Allensworth's kick resulted in bodily harm to the officer. See Minn. Stat. § 609.02, subd. 7 (2010) (defining bodily harm as "physical pain or injury, illness, or any impairment of physical condition").
Intent, however, requires additional analysis. Intent is "subjective state of mind usually established only by reasonable inference from surrounding circumstances." State v. Schweppe, 306 Minn. 395, 401, 237 N.W.2d 609, 614 (1975). Therefore, appellate courts examine intent as circumstantial evidence. See State v. Silvernail, 831 N.W.2d 594, 604 (Minn. 2013) (Stras, J., concurring) (explaining that the circumstantial evidence standard applies when the state proves a disputed element of a criminal offense exclusively by circumstantial evidence, even if it presented direct evidence on other elements). A conviction based on circumstantial evidence receives "heightened scrutiny" on review. State v. Al-Naseer, 788 N.W.2d 469, 473 (Minn. 2010).
We apply a two-step test to evaluate the sufficiency of the circumstantial evidence supporting a defendant's conviction. State v. Andersen, 784 N.W.2d 320, 329-30 (Minn. 2010). First, we identify the circumstances proved. Id. at 329. At this first step, we defer to the factfinder's "acceptance of the proof of these circumstances and rejection of evidence in the record that conflicted with the circumstances proved by the [s]tate." Id. (quotation omitted). Second, we "examine independently the reasonableness of all inferences that might be drawn from the circumstances proved, " including "inferences consistent with a hypothesis other than guilt." Id. (quotation omitted). At this second step, we provide no deference to the factfinder's choice between reasonable inferences. Id. at 329-30. "Circumstantial evidence must form a complete chain that, in view of the evidence as a ...