Olmsted County District Court File No. 55-CR-11-7334
Lori Swanson, Attorney General, St. Paul, Minnesota; and Mark A. Ostrem, Olmsted County Attorney, James P. Spencer, Assistant County Attorney, Rochester, Minnesota (for respondent)
Cathryn Middlebrook, Interim Chief Appellate Public Defender, Jessica Benson Merz Godes, Assistant Public Defender, St. Paul, Minnesota (for appellant)
Considered and decided by Smith, Presiding Judge; Worke, Judge; and Rodenberg, Judge.
Appealing from his convictions of violating a domestic abuse no-contact order (DANCO) and direct criminal contempt during the trial proceedings, appellant argues that (1) the district court erred in determining that his constitutional challenges are barred as an impermissible collateral attack; (2) the DANCO statute is unconstitutional; (3) the district court committed reversible error by failing to properly instruct the jury; and (4) his direct contempt conviction should be reversed as unsupported by the record. We affirm.
Appellant Edward Leroy Milner was charged with violating a DANCO. The DANCO was issued during appellant's rule 5 hearing in a criminal proceeding in which appellant was charged with several crimes relating to a domestic assault on V.L.T., a woman with whom he was previously involved. The district court stated that appellant was "not to have contact with [V.L.T] or be at . . . any location where she resides." On or about August 30, 2011, appellant sent a letter to V.L.T. from the Olmsted County Jail using the name of a different jail inmate in the return address. V.L.T. did not know the inmate whose name was used on the return address of that letter. The letter referred to intimate details from V.L.T.'s past relationship with appellant. It was also written in what V.L.T. described as appellant's distinct handwriting and contained fingerprints of appellant's right thumb and left palm. On October 12, V.L.T. gave the letter to the officer investigating the underlying domestic assault charges.
On October 20, 2011, appellant was charged with felony violation of the DANCO in violation of Minn. Stat. § 629.75 (2010). At the omnibus hearing, appellant argued that the DANCO statute is unconstitutional under several theories. The district court determined that these challenges were barred as an impermissible collateral attack. Thereafter, appellant entered a plea of not guilty, and the case was tried to a jury.
At trial, the district court instructed the jury on the elements of the charged felony DANCO violation as follows: "First, there was an existing court domestic abuse no-contact order; second, the defendant violated a term or condition of the order; third, the defendant knew of the existence of the order; fourth, the defendant's act took place on or about August 30, 2011, in Olmsted County." Additionally, the special verdict form provided to the jury posed this question: "Did the defendant knowingly commit this crime within ten years of the first of defendant's two or more previous qualified domestic violence-related offense convictions?" The judge instructed the jury regarding this special verdict question as follows:
If you find defendant is guilty, you have an additional issue to determine and it will be put to you in the form of a question on the verdict form. The question is: Did the defendant knowingly commit this crime within ten years of the first of defendant's two or more previous qualified domestic violence-related offense convictions? You should answer the question yes or no. If you have a reasonable doubt as to the answer, you should answer the question no.
Appellant did not object to either the special verdict form or to these jury instructions. The jury found appellant guilty of the charged offense and answered the special verdict question in the affirmative. Appellant was sentenced to an executed commitment to prison for one year and one day.
Throughout the trial proceedings, appellant was uncooperative, refused to stand when the judge entered the courtroom, refused to answer the judge's questions, and was eventually removed from the courtroom because of his behavior. After the final summations of counsel, appellant was brought back into the courtroom and was asked if he wanted to be present for the return of the verdict. Despite warnings that the district court could hold him in contempt, appellant ignored the district court's questions and repeatedly interrupted the judge while she was speaking. After multiple warnings and admonitions, the district court found ...