Mille Lacs County District Court File No. 48-CR-11-553
Lori Swanson, Attorney General, James B. Early, Assistant Attorney General, St. Paul, Minnesota; and Janice S. Jude, Mille Lacs County Attorney, Milaca, Minnesota (for respondent)
Cathryn Middlebrook, Interim Chief Appellate Public Defender, Rachel F. Bond, Assistant Public Defender, St. Paul, Minnesota (for appellant)
Considered and decided by Kalitowski, Presiding Judge; Worke, Judge; and Connolly, Judge.
Appellant Donald James Boyd argues that the evidence submitted at his trial was not sufficient to convict him of first-degree witness tampering and of terroristic threats, that the district court abused its discretion in admitting a witness's prior statements, and that the district court erred in denying his motion for reconsideration of the verdict. We affirm.
After a bench trial, appellant was convicted of witness tampering, in violation of Minn. Stat. § 609.498, subd. 1(a) (2010), for telling D.K. that someone was "going to pay" if B.S., D.K.'s girlfriend and a potential witness in an unrelated burglary charge against appellant, did not get the charges against him dropped. Appellant contends that the evidence presented was insufficient to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he committed first-degree witness tampering and maintains three arguments: the plain language of the statute does not encompass his conduct, the testimony at trial was insufficient to sustain his conviction, and the evidence was insufficient to establish the requisite intent element. We consider each in turn.
First, appellant argues that the evidence was insufficient to convict him because his conduct does not fall within the plain language of the statute. We disagree.
Whether a statute has been properly construed is a question of law subject to de novo review. State v. Murphy, 545 N.W.2d 909, 914 (Minn. 1996). When interpreting a statute, an appellate court gives words and phrases their plain and ordinary meaning. State v. Koenig, 666 N.W.2d 366, 372 (Minn. 2003). "If a statute is unambiguous, then we must apply the statute's plain meaning." Larson v. State, 790 N.W.2d 700, 703 (Minn. 2010). Because the language of the statute here is unambiguous, we apply its plain meaning.
A person is guilty of tampering with a witness in the first degree if he "intentionally prevents or dissuades or intentionally attempts to prevent or dissuade by means of force or threats of injury to any person or property, a person who is or may become a witness from attending or testifying at any trial, proceeding, or inquiry authorized by law." Minn. Stat. § 609.498, subd. 1(a). Appellant's conduct fits within the plain language of the statute. Although B.S. had not been called as a witness in the burglary trial, threatening one who may become a witness is a crime within the plain language of the statute. Because B.S. may have become a witness in the unrelated trial against appellant, appellant's threat towards her constitutes witness tampering within the meaning of the statute.
Appellant also argues that the evidence was insufficient to sustain his conviction for witness tampering. In considering a claim of insufficient evidence, we are limited to a painstaking analysis of the record to determine whether the evidence, when viewed in the light most favorable to the conviction, is sufficient to allow the finder of fact to reach the verdict it did. State v. Webb, 440 N.W.2d 426, 430 (Minn. 1989). "We review criminal bench trials the same as jury trials when determining whether the evidence is sufficient to sustain convictions, " Davis v. State, 595 N.W.2d. 520, 525 (Minn. 1999), and must assume the fact-finder "believed the state's witnesses and disbelieved any evidence to the contrary." State v. Moore, 438 N.W.2d 101, 108 (Minn. 1989). We will not disturb the verdict if the fact-finder, acting with due regard for the presumption ...