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In re Welfare of J.J.M.A.

Court of Appeals of Minnesota

September 23, 2013

In the Matter of the Welfare of: J.J.M.A.

UNPUBLISHED OPINION

Ramsey County District Court File No. 62-JV-12-2907

Michael Kemp, MET Law Group, PLLC, St. Paul, Minnesota (for appellant)

Lori Swanson, Attorney General, St. Paul, Minnesota; and John J. Choi, Ramsey County Attorney, Thomas R. Ragatz, Assistant County Attorney, St. Paul, Minnesota (for respondent)

Considered and decided by Halbrooks, Presiding Judge; Stauber, Judge; and Hooten, Judge.

HALBROOKS, JUDGE

Appellant challenges the district court's adjudication that he is delinquent of possession of drug paraphernalia in violation of Minn. Stat. § 152.092 (2012), arguing that enforcement of section 152.092 violates his rights to freedom of conscience and free exercise of religion under the Minnesota Constitution. Because we conclude that appellant established that section 152.092 burdens a sincerely held religious belief and because the state failed to meet its burden of showing that the statute as applied is the least-restrictive means to accomplish a compelling state interest, we reverse.

FACTS

In September 2012, then 15-year-old appellant J.J.M.A. was visiting his grandfather's house when he got into an argument with his mother and his grandfather. When the argument became physical, J.J.M.A.'s grandfather called the police. When the police arrived, J.J.M.A.'s mother asked them to arrest her son. In the course of the arrest, the police searched J.J.M.A. and discovered a glass pipe and tobacco in his pocket. J.J.M.A. was charged with three petty misdemeanor offenses: (1) disorderly conduct, (2) possession of drug paraphernalia, and (3) minor in possession of tobacco.

J.J.M.A. asserted the affirmative defenses of freedom of conscience and free exercise of religion to the possession charge. He testified at the bench trial that he grew up in a household where both of his parents were practicing Rastafarians, that he had a conversion experience at an early age, and that he identifies as a practicing Rastafarian. J.J.M.A. stated that the pipe is integral to his religious belief, both to use to smoke and as a personal reminder of his faith.

The district court concluded that Rastafari is a true religion and that J.J.M.A. has a sincerely held belief in the general tenets of the religion. But the district court held that J.J.M.A. failed to satisfy his burden of establishing a sincerely held belief that the Rastafari religion requires that he carry his pipe with him at all times. As a result, the district court did not reach the issue of whether the state met its burden of showing a compelling government interest in prohibiting the possession of drug paraphernalia. The district court adjudicated J.J.M.A. delinquent on all three charges. This appeal follows.[1]

DECISION

J.J.M.A. argues that Minn. Stat. § 152.092 is unconstitutional as applied to him because it violates his rights under the freedom-of-conscience clause of the Minnesota Constitution. Minn. Stat. § 152.092 provides that it is a petty misdemeanor to "knowingly or intentionally . . . use or . . . possess drug paraphernalia." The legislature defines drug paraphernalia as "all equipment, products, and materials of any kind . . . which are knowingly or intentionally used primarily in . . . injecting, ingesting, inhaling, or otherwise introducing into the human body a controlled substance." Minn. Stat. § 152.01, subd. 18 (2012). J.J.M.A. does not dispute that his pipe is the type of item typically prohibited by section 152.092 or that he knowingly possessed the pipe at the time of his arrest.

Whether application of a statute is unconstitutional as applied to an individual presents a question of law, which we review de novo. State v. Pedersen, 679 N.W.2d 368, 372 (Minn.App. 2004), review denied (Minn. Aug. 17, 2004). ...


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