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State v. Sturdivant

Court of Appeals of Minnesota

December 16, 2013

State of Minnesota, Respondent,
v.
Brandon Oneil Sturdivant, Appellant.

UNPUBLISHED OPINION

Hennepin County District Court File No. 27-CR-11-10023

Lori Swanson, Attorney General, St. Paul, Minnesota; and Michael O. Freeman, Hennepin County Attorney, Elizabeth Johnston, Assistant County Attorney, Minneapolis, 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 Larkin, Presiding Judge; Hudson, Judge; and Chutich, Judge.

LARKIN, Judge

Appellant challenges the district court's denial of his petition for postconviction relief, arguing that the state's failure to disclose a potential witness's whereabouts violated Minn. R. Crim. P. 9 and Brady v. Maryland and that the potential witness's exculpatory statement is newly discovered evidence, "requiring a new trial or at least an evidentiary hearing." Appellant also challenges the district court's denial of his Batson objection to the state's peremptory challenge to a prospective African-American juror. Because the state's failure to provide defense counsel with the potential witness's address violated rule 9, we reverse and remand for an evidentiary hearing for the district court to determine whether the violation was prejudicial. We affirm in all other respects.

FACTS

On April 7, 2011, respondent State of Minnesota charged appellant Brandon Oneil Sturdivant with aiding and abetting first-degree aggravated robbery after two men robbed B.L.M. at gunpoint at M.R.N.'s apartment. On the night of the robbery, K.R. told police that she was in a bedroom in the apartment when the crime occurred. She heard someone yell, "Get on the ground!" She cracked open the bedroom door, peeked into the living room, and saw everyone lying on the ground, so she shut the door and kept quiet. K.R. also told the police that she was homeless.

On June 7, the defense sought an order "requiring [the] prosecution to disclose the names, addresses, and prior record of convictions within [the] prosecutor's actual knowledge of persons whom the prosecution intends to call as a witness at the trial." The state located K.R. in the Hennepin County Adult Correctional Facility (the workhouse) in Plymouth before trial and served her with a subpoena on June 15. The prosecution provided defense counsel with witness lists on June 21 and July 6. Both lists identified K.R. as a potential witness with an address of "Plymouth, MN." The lists provided only a city and state for each potential witness, and not a street address.

The district court began a jury trial in July, but it declared a mistrial on the second day of voir dire because the state's main witness was unavailable. The district court held a second jury trial in October. The state's witness list for the October trial also listed K.R. as a potential witness, with an address of "Minneapolis, MN." The state did not subpoena K.R. for the second trial and did not attempt to locate her. At trial, B.L.M. and R.G., another individual who was present at M.R.N.'s apartment on the night of the crime, identified Sturdivant as one of the men involved in the robbery. The jury found Sturdivant guilty as charged.

After the trial, Sturdivant learned that K.R. was in the workhouse. A defense investigator interviewed K.R., and she said that she let two men into M.R.N.'s apartment on the day of the robbery. K.R. provided an affidavit stating:

In late November, 2011, I met with . . . an investigator working for the Hennepin County Public Defender's office. [He] showed me a series of six photographs. I did not know any of the men in the photographs. The man in photograph number 5 was not one of the men I let in the door of [the apartment] on the day of the robbery. The man in photograph number 5 was not at [the apartment] on the day of the robbery.

Sturdivant asserted that he was the man in photograph number five.

Sturdivant moved the district court for a new trial, alleging several errors at trial, including the district court's denial of his Batson challenge during voir dire. Approximately two weeks later, Sturdivant e-mailed notice of a second motion for a new trial based on his discovery of K.R.'s whereabouts. The district court denied both motions.

Sturdivant appealed his conviction. This court granted Sturdivant's motion to stay the appeal and remand for postconviction proceedings. Sturdivant petitioned the district court for postconviction relief, citing K.R.'s posttrial statement and affidavit and arguing that the state violated its discovery obligations under the Minnesota Rules of Criminal Procedure and Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83, 83 S.Ct. 1194 (1963). The district court denied Sturdivant's petition without a hearing, and this court reinstated his appeal.

DECISION

Sturdivant argues that the district court erroneously denied his petition for postconviction relief because the state's failure to disclose K.R.'s whereabouts violated Minn. R. Crim. P. 9 and Brady, and because K.R.'s exculpatory statement is newly discovered evidence, "requiring a new trial or at least an evidentiary hearing." Sturdivant also argues that the district court erred by overruling his Batson challenge. We address each argument in turn.

I.

Sturdivant argues that the state violated Minn. R. Crim. P. 9.01, subdivision 1, by failing to disclose K.R.'s presence at the workhouse. Specifically, Sturdivant contends that the state failed to comply with its obligation to disclose the "'addresses' of witnesses the prosecutor intends to call at trial and anyone with information about the case." "Whether a discovery violation occurred is a question of law that we review de novo." State v. Boldman, 813 N.W.2d 102, 109 (Minn. 2012).

The Relevant Facts

During K.R.'s only police interview regarding the crime, she told the police she was homeless. Accordingly, the relevant police reports describe K.R.'s residence as "Npa" and her telephone as "H:none." At some point before the first trial, the prosecutor's office determined that K.R. was incarcerated at the workhouse. On June 15, 2011, a Hennepin County Sheriff's Deputy, who is assigned to the prosecutor's office, served a subpoena on K.R. at the workhouse, directing her to appear as a witness for the state at trial. On June 16, K.R. telephoned a victim-witness advocate with the prosecutor's office from the workhouse. The victim-witness advocate put K.R. on "standby" status for trial, and K.R. agreed to inform the victim-witness advocate if she left the workhouse to go to treatment before the scheduled trial date of July 6, 2011.

The prosecutor provided a witness list to Sturdivant on or about June 21. It listed "[K.R.] Plymouth, MN" as a potential witness. On July 6, the prosecution provided Sturdivant a second witness list that once again listed "[K.R.] Plymouth, MN" as a potential witness. But the prosecutor did not inform Sturdivant that K.R. was incarcerated at the workhouse in Plymouth. After the district court declared a mistrial during the first trial, the prosecutor's office released K.R. from her subpoena and did not have further contact with her.

Although the prosecutor's office did not subpoena K.R. as a witness for the second trial, the prosecutor provided Sturdivant a third witness list that listed "[K.R.] Minneapolis, MN" as a potential witness. The state explains that the prosecutor changed K.R.'s location from Plymouth to Minneapolis in the third witness list "[i]n light of her likely release from the workhouse" and because Minneapolis was "where she had described herself to police as homeless." Unbeknownst to either party, K.R. apparently was once again incarcerated at the workhouse during the second trial.

The Alleged Discovery Violation

Under the rules of criminal procedure,

[t]he prosecutor must, at the defense's request and before the Rule 11 Omnibus Hearing, allow access at any reasonable time to all matters within the prosecutor's possession or control that relate to the case, except as provided in Rule 9.01, subd. 3, and make the following disclosures:
(1) Trial Witnesses; Other Persons; Grand Jury Witnesses.
(a)Trial Witnesses. The names and addresses of witnesses who may be called at trial, along with their record of convictions, if any, within the prosecutor's actual knowledge. . . .
(b)Other Persons. The names and addresses of anyone else with information ...

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