Pine County District Court File No. 58-CR-10-358.
Lori Swanson, Attorney General, John B. Galus, Assistant Attorney General, St. Paul, Minnesota; and John K. Carlson, Pine County Attorney, Pine City, MN (for respondent)
Cathryn Middlebrook, Interim Chief Appellate Public Defender, Kirk Anderson, Special Assistant Public Defender, St. Paul, Minnesota (for appellant)
Considered and decided by Stoneburner, Presiding Judge; Hudson, Judge; and Hooten, Judge.
In contesting her conviction of fifth-degree possession of methamphetamine, appellant argues that (1) there was insufficient circumstantial evidence supporting the conviction; (2) the district court erred by permitting the deputy sheriff to testify regarding his belief that the canister in which the methamphetamine was found belonged to appellant; and (3) the district court abused its discretion by instructing the jury that, when considering direct and circumstantial evidence, the law does not prefer one type of evidence over the other. We affirm.
During the evening of June 29, 2010, Deputy Sheriff Benjamin Neel of the Pine County Sheriff's Office was called to assist a lawful arrest of appellant Rhiannon Brozek in Pine City. When he arrived on scene, Deputy Neel searched appellant "as best as possible, " explaining that "it's difficult for a male [officer] to search [female suspects], so a lot of times you'll just ask them if they have any weapons or objects that are going to harm you or hurt me in any way." He added that he might "pat them down with the back of [his] hands and stuff like that, " but that "the search is more thoroughly performed once they're in jail by a female officer." He placed appellant in handcuffs with her hands behind her back and put her in the back of his squad car.
As Deputy Neel assisted another officer search appellant's purse, he noticed that appellant "was moving around in the squad car a lot, " "slouching down in the car and then coming back up." Deputy Neel then drove appellant to the Pine County jail. Upon opening the door to remove her from the squad car, he noticed that her jacket "was down around her shoulder down on her waist down by her wrist area" rather than "fully on her" as it had been when he first placed her in the squad car. He also noticed that appellant's shirt under her jacket "was pulled up from her waist line area."
Deputy Neel testified that when appellant exited his squad car, he observed a film canister "shoved down by the back seat" directly behind where appellant's hands had been. He clarified that the canister "wasn't shoved all the way underneath [the] seat" and that he "could see it as soon as [appellant] stepped out of the vehicle." The canister contained "two little baggies" of "a white crystal like . . . powdery substance."
Deputy Neel further testified that he had "thoroughly" searched the back seat of his squad car at the beginning of his shift, which was approximately three hours prior to appellant's arrest, and did not find anything. He explained that the back seats "pop right out" and are "really easy to move out and in." He looked underneath the seats by moving them "all the way forward so you can see the whole bottom part" and found no contraband. There was no space to hide anything on the sides of the back seats, and nothing could be hidden in the top parts of the seats because they are bolted and cannot be removed.
After arriving on the scene, but prior to placing appellant in the back of his squad car, Deputy Neel again searched the back seat "as best as possible." He "made a quick glance to make sure there was nothing on the seat or on the floor" and was certain that there were no items in his back seat prior to transferring appellant to the jail. He submitted the canister for testing, but did not test it for fingerprints "[b]ecause [he] knew it was [appellant's]" and explained that "there was no other way it could have gotten in my car" except for appellant bringing it in. Deputy Neel acknowledged that he never saw appellant in actual possession of the canister, the contents of which later tested positive for methamphetamine.
Appellant was charged with one count of fifth-degree possession of methamphetamine in violation of Minn. Stat. § 152.025, subd. 2(b)(1) (Supp. 2009), and was later ...