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State v. Chavarria-Cruz

Supreme Court of Minnesota

November 20, 2013

State of Minnesota, Respondent,
v.
Jose Miguel Chavarria-Cruz, Appellant.

Office of Appellate Courts

Melissa Sheridan, Assistant State Public Defender, Eagan, Minnesota, for appellant.

Lori Swanson, Attorney General, Saint Paul, Minnesota; and Michael O. Freeman, Hennepin County Attorney, Michael Richardson, Assistant Hennepin County Attorney, Minneapolis, Minnesota, for respondent.

Court of Appeals Anderson, J.

SYLLABUS

1. The State presented sufficient evidence to support appellant's conviction of second-degree intentional murder.

2. Although the district court failed to properly analyze the double jeopardy issue when it denied appellant's pretrial motion to dismiss the felony murder charge, the error does not warrant a new trial.

OPINION

ANDERSON, Justice.

A grand jury indicted appellant Jose Miguel Chavarria-Cruz with first-degree premeditated murder for the benefit of a gang arising out of the shooting death of Carlos Hernandez Perez. Following a jury trial, Chavarria-Cruz was found not guilty of the first-degree murder offense but guilty of the lesser-included offense of second-degree intentional murder for the benefit of a gang. The district court convicted Chavarria-Cruz on the second-degree murder offense and imposed a 350-month sentence. On appeal, we held that Chavarria-Cruz's right to counsel was violated, vacated the second-degree murder conviction, and remanded for a new trial. On remand, a second grand jury indicted Chavarria-Cruz with first-degree felony murder for the benefit of a gang and second-degree intentional murder for the benefit of a gang. Chavarria-Cruz filed a pretrial motion to dismiss the felony murder charge, arguing that the charge violated the constitutional and statutory prohibitions against double jeopardy because he had been acquitted of the first-degree premeditated murder charge. The district court denied the motion. Following a second jury trial, Chavarria-Cruz was found guilty of first-degree felony murder for the benefit of a gang and second-degree intentional murder for the benefit of a gang. The court convicted Chavarria-Cruz on the second-degree murder offense and imposed a 350-month sentence.[1] After the court of appeals affirmed, we granted review on two issues. First, whether the State presented sufficient evidence to support the conviction of second-degree intentional murder for the benefit of a gang. Second, whether the district court erred when it denied the pretrial motion to dismiss the felony murder charge. Based on our review of the record, we affirm the conviction of second-degree intentional murder for the benefit of a gang. However, because the district court failed to properly analyze the double jeopardy issue, we reverse the district court's denial of Chavarria-Cruz's pretrial motion to dismiss.

A detailed statement of the facts can be found in State v. Chavarria-Cruz, 784 N.W.2d 355 (Minn. 2010); therefore, we will set out only the facts relevant to this appeal. On May 1, 2006, Carlos Hernandez Perez died on the driveway of his Bloomington home after sustaining four gunshot wounds. Hernandez was associated with the Vatos Locos gang, which was engaged in an ongoing conflict with the Sureños 13 gang. The investigation of Hernandez's murder led police to suspect a group of five Sureños 13 members, including Chavarria-Cruz. On October 19, 2006, Chavarria-Cruz gave a statement to police. During the statement, he admitted the following. He and his fellow Sureños 13 members went to Hernandez's house and stole drugs and shoes from Hernandez. After a struggle, Hernandez ran away. Chavarria-Cruz shot at Hernandez as he ran. Nevertheless, Chavarria-Cruz claimed he did not intend to kill Hernandez, and that he did not find out until the following day that Hernandez had been shot and killed.

Following the police investigation, a Hennepin County grand jury indicted Chavarria-Cruz with first-degree premeditated murder, Minn. Stat. § 609.185(a)(l) (2012). Chavarria-Cruz pleaded not guilty and demanded a jury trial.

At trial, the State offered Chavarria-Cruz's October 19 statement into evidence. The State also presented extensive testimony from various people establishing that Chavarria-Cruz went to Hernandez's house on the night of the murder. F.S. testified that Chavarria-Cruz and another man got out of the car at Hernandez's home carrying guns. F.S. remained in the car, but heard gunshots. Chavarria-Cruz and the other man then ran back to the car, carrying a pair of shoes. F.S. heard Chavarria-Cruz admit to shooting his gun, while the other man stated that the clip on his gun had fallen out. The jury acquitted Chavarria-Cruz of the first-degree premeditated murder charge, but found him guilty of the lesser-included offense of second-degree intentional murder for the benefit of a gang, Minn. Stat. §§ 609.19, subd. 1(1), 609.229, subd. 2 (2012). The court convicted Chavarria-Cruz of the second-degree murder offense and imposed a 350-month sentence.

On appeal, we held that the district court erred in admitting the statements Chavarria-Cruz gave to police after he attempted to invoke his right to counsel. State v. Chavarria-Cruz, 784 N.W.2d 355, 365 (Minn. 2010). Given the powerful evidentiary value of Chavarria-Cruz's statement, we further held that the error in admitting the statement was not harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. Id. We therefore reversed the second-degree murder conviction and remanded for a new trial. Id.

On remand, the district court granted the State's motion to return the case to a grand jury. A second Hennepin County grand jury indicted Chavarria-Cruz with several offenses, including first-degree felony murder for the benefit of a gang, Minn. Stat. §§ 609.185(a)(3), 609.229, subd. 2 (2012), and second-degree intentional murder for the benefit of a gang, Minn. Stat. §§ 609.19, 609.229, subd. 2. Chavarria-Cruz filed a pretrial motion to dismiss the first-degree felony murder charge on double jeopardy grounds, arguing that the jury's previous acquittal on the first-degree premeditated murder offense barred prosecution of the first-degree felony murder charge.[2] The district court denied the motion, explaining that if any future sentence on the felony murder charge was capped at 350 months, the court did not "see any of the principles of the double jeopardy clause being violated by allowing [the State] to proceed on [the felony murder charge]."

At the second trial, the State presented the same evidence as the first trial, with the exception of Chavarria-Cruz's now-suppressed statement. F.S. testified that he did not remember his testimony from the first trial, so the court allowed the State to read his previous testimony to the jury. Additionally, the State presented the testimony of M.G., a member or former member of Sureños 13. M.G. testified that within two days of the shooting, Chavarria-Cruz described the circumstances in a way that matched F.S.'s testimony, and that Chavarria-Cruz had admitted to being the shooter. M.G. admitted that he expected to receive a reduced sentence in exchange for his cooperation. The jury found Chavarria-Cruz guilty on all counts. The district court again sentenced Chavarria-Cruz to 350 months for second-degree murder for the benefit of a gang.

Chavarria-Cruz appealed, arguing in part that the district court erred when it denied his pretrial motion to dismiss the first-degree felony murder offense and that there was insufficient evidence to support his conviction of second-degree intentional murder for the benefit of a gang. The court of appeals affirmed. State v. Chavarria-Cruz, No. A11-1181, 2012 WL 2873887 (Minn.App. July 13, 2012).[3]

I.

Chavarria-Cruz first argues that the State failed to present sufficient evidence to support his conviction of second-degree intentional murder for the benefit of a gang. More specifically, he argues that the State failed to ...


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