Hennepin County District Court File No. 27CR1139884.
Lori A. Swanson, Attorney General, St. Paul, Minnesota; and
Michael O. Freeman, Hennepin County Attorney, Elizabeth Johnston, Assistant
County Attorney, Minneapolis, Minnesota (for respondent)
Cathryn Young Middlebrook, Chief Appellate Public Defender, Benjamin J. Butler, Assistant Appellate Public Defender, St. Paul, Minnesota (for appellant)
Considered and decided by Schellhas, Presiding Judge; Stauber, Judge; and Bjorkman, Judge.
On appeal from his conviction of prohibited person in possession of a firearm, appellant argues that (1) the circumstantial evidence was insufficient to support the jury's finding that he constructively possessed the firearm and (2) the district court abused its discretion by allowing the state's witnesses to testify that they were members of the Violent Offender Task Force (VOTF), and by allowing the state to introduce evidence that the gun at issue was loaded and ready to fire. We affirm.
In December 2011, law enforcement obtained a warrant to search the known residence of appellant Jerome Avriell Smith after law enforcement received information that appellant unlawfully possessed a handgun and was selling narcotics. Several members of the VOTF assisted in the execution of the search warrant. During the search, officers discovered a shoe box in a closet in one of the bedrooms containing a handgun. Appellant was subsequently charged with prohibited person in possession of a firearm.
Prior to trial, appellant moved to disallow the testimony of members of the VOTF that they are members of that task force. The district court denied the motion, concluding that such testimony would not add "any prejudice to [appellant] when [the officers] describe their total job criteria, what they do." Appellant then agreed to stipulate that he is a person prohibited by law from possessing a firearm.
At trial, the state presented evidence and testimony establishing that prior to executing the search warrant, members of the VOTF conducted surveillance of the residence to be searched. When the officers executed the warrant, the residence was occupied by a 14-year old boy and two small children. Appellant was not at the residence, but was located at an appointment and brought back to the house and kept outside while the warrant was executed. After a family member arrived at the residence, appellant gave permission for the children to be released to the family member.
The residence was a two-story single family home with a bedroom in the basement and two bedrooms upstairs. Deputy Patrick Chelmo testified that the basement bedroom appeared to be occupied by the teenage boy, that one upstairs bedroom appeared to be associated with young children, and that the second upstairs bedroom appeared to be occupied by adults. The second upstairs bedroom has two closets, a queen-sized bed, a dresser, a television, and a small refrigerator. Under the mattress in the bedroom, officers discovered two Hennepin County jail inmate identification bracelets bearing appellant's name, and several photographs of appellant.
Deputy Chelmo testified that in one of the closets in the second upstairs bedroom, there was "some men's clothing, some boxes on the shelf, [and] a hat." One of the boxes on the shelf contained a recent letter addressed to appellant. The letter was from the Hennepin County Sheriff addressing an open property claim involving a ring. The box also contained a loaded handgun.
The jury found appellant guilty of the charged offense. The district court then sentenced appellant to 60 months ...