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State v. Sandstrom

Court of Appeals of Minnesota

September 9, 2013

State of Minnesota, Respondent,
Will Arnold Sandstrom, Appellant.


St. Louis County District Court File No. 69HI-CR-11-666

Lori Swanson, Attorney General, St. Paul, Minnesota; and Mark S. Rubin, St. Louis County Attorney, Brian D. Simonson, Assistant County Attorney, Hibbing, Minnesota (for respondent).

David W. Merchant, Chief Appellate Public Defender, Jennifer L. Lauermann, Assistant Public Defender, St. Paul, Minnesota (for appellant).

Considered and decided by Worke, Presiding Judge; Rodenberg, Judge; and Smith, Judge.


Appellant challenges his conviction for misdemeanor trespass in violation of Minn. Stat. § 609.605, subd. 1(b)(3) (2010), arguing that the evidence presented at trial is insufficient to support the jury verdict. We affirm.


Appellant Will Arnold Sandstrom and his neighbors, Avery Sipola and his family, have a long history of disputes over the boundary lines of their adjoining properties. Appellant and Avery Sipola reached an agreement to conclude litigation over the property and boundary disputes. The 2009 settlement agreement set forth the legal descriptions of the parties' properties, defined the common boundary in dispute, allowed either to pay for and install a fence adjoining the common boundary, and prohibited the parties from "harassing each other, from trespassing on the property of the other, and from damaging the fencing or other personal property of the other party." The 2009 settlement agreement also prohibited the parties from "directly or indirectly, assert[ing] any boundary or ownership claim against the property of the other." The 2009 settlement agreement was approved and adopted by the St. Louis County district court in an Order and Decree Approving Settlement and Determining Judicial Landmarks, which was signed on September 22, 2009.

On June 3, 2011, appellant went to the Hibbing Sheriff's Office[1] and advised Deputy Andrew Feiro that he was planning to use "Sandstrom Road" on the Sipola property to access his own property. Deputy Feiro was aware of the parties' property disputes and warned appellant that, because the road was a private driveway belonging to Sipola, appellant would be cited for trespass if he used it. Appellant maintained that he would use the road and that he wanted the trespass citation.

Sometime in July 2011, appellant went to the sheriff's office in Virginia, Minnesota, where he spoke with Sgt. John Skelton. Appellant advised Sgt. Skelton that he possessed records evidencing his ownership of the right to use Sandstrom Road, which records he claimed to have left in his vehicle. Sgt. Skelton, who was not aware of the history of property disputes involving appellant and Sipola, directed appellant to the Hibbing Sheriff's Office, which had jurisdiction over the land identified by appellant. Sgt. Skelton reminded appellant that he was not appellant's attorney, nor could he give appellant legal advice but told him that "if he did in fact have paperwork showing that the property was owned by himself it should not be an issue."

When Sipola returned home on July 19, 2011, he discovered appellant sitting in a car parked on the gravel driveway, which was not open to the public, was maintained by Sipola, and was situated near the Sipola home. The driveway, which was posted with several "no trespassing" signs, was included in the land awarded to Sipola under the 2009 settlement agreement. Sipola approached appellant and informed appellant that he had no business on the Sipola property and that appellant was not to be there. When Sipola asked appellant to leave, appellant refused to do so. Sipola gave appellant another chance to leave before calling the sheriff. Appellant again refused to leave and claimed that he was "adverse possessing" Sipola's driveway. Sipola called 9-1-1. While Sipola was on the phone, appellant became "irate and started screaming and yelling" that the road belonged to him. The 9-1-1 operator asked Sipola if he was in danger and advised him to sit in his car with the doors locked and the windows shut. Sipola returned to his car and stayed on the phone with the 9-1-1 operator while appellant started "digging around in the back seat" of his vehicle. While still on the phone with the 9-1-1 operator, Sipola then turned his vehicle in such a way as to prevent appellant from leaving. At trial, Sipola testified that he blocked the driveway to ensure that appellant would remain on the property until law enforcement arrived. When Deputy Feiro arrived on the scene, Sipola moved his vehicle.

Deputy Feiro asked appellant whether he recalled their June 2011 conversation about appellant's intended use of the Sipola driveway, and appellant indicated that he did. Appellant told Deputy Feiro that his attorney had advised him to use Sandstrom Road and displayed several hand-written documents, which Deputy Feiro photographed. Deputy Feiro cited appellant for trespassing. Appellant indicated his intent to return to the Sipola property at a later time. Deputy Feiro warned appellant that, "if he returned he would be arrested or cited for trespassing again, " but appellant insisted that he would return.

A jury trial was held on September 19, 2012. Appellant testified that, following his attorney's advice to "use . . . or lose" Sandstrom Road, he decided to use the road to get to his property. The attorney did not testify at trial. Appellant also testified that he made his decision to use Sandstrom Road after reviewing Leiding Township board meeting minutes from 1933, 1937, and 1940, which established that Sandstrom Road was being used and maintained by the township during that time. Appellant admitted the driveway that he had used on July 19 "runs across" the Sipola property according to the 2009 settlement agreement, but he maintained that he "didn't sign away the Sandstrom Road." As a rebuttal witness, the state called the attorney who represented Sipola in the 2009 settlement agreement. The attorney testified that the 2009 settlement agreement was meant to resolve all boundary and property disputes between the parties, that it was very specific as to the ...

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