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Ries v. State

Court of Appeals of Minnesota

December 19, 2016

Justin Stephen Ries, petitioner, Respondent,
State of Minnesota, Appellant.

         Ramsey County District Court File No. 62-CR-13-178


          Cathryn Middlebrook, Chief Appellate Public Defender, Jessica Merz-Godes, Assistant Public Defender, St. Paul, Minnesota (for respondent)

          Lori Swanson, Attorney General, St. Paul, Minnesota; and John J. Choi, Ramsey County Attorney, Kaarin Long, Assistant County Attorney, St. Paul, Minnesota (for appellant)

          Considered and decided by Kirk, Presiding Judge; Bjorkman, Judge; and Jesson, Judge.


         A defendant is not required to use a peremptory challenge to strike a juror who should have been removed for cause in order to preserve the claim that the for-cause denial impaired the defendant's right to a fair trial.


          BJORKMAN, Judge

         Appellant State of Minnesota challenges the postconviction court's reversal of respondent Justin Stephen Ries's conviction for ineligible possession of a firearm and grant of a new trial due to juror bias. Ries appeals the denial of his motion to suppress evidence obtained as a result of a warrantless search and seizure. We affirm.


         S.A. lived in an apartment in St. Paul with her brother and her six-month-old son. During the evening of January 4, 2013, Ries and two other men came over to visit S.A.'s brother. S.A. did not know Ries but was told, before he arrived, that the men from Iowa (one of whom was Ries) would leave their guns in the car. The adults drank alcohol late into the evening while the child slept in S.A.'s bedroom. S.A. woke up at about 3:30 a.m. and saw that the men had passed out, with the exception of Ries, who was trying to lift himself from the living room floor onto a couch. S.A. noticed the butt of a gun tucked in the waistband of Ries's jeans. Unable to wake her brother, S.A. called 911. She told the dispatcher that she could not sleep knowing that one of the intoxicated men had a gun, especially with her young child in the apartment. She asked the dispatcher to send officers to remove the men from the apartment.

         St. Paul Police Officer Jeffery Korus was the first to arrive at the scene; S.A. met him outside. She explained the layout of the apartment, and described Ries's appearance, location on the couch, and where the handgun would be found. After officers Zachary Tabatt and Rod Larson arrived, the three entered the apartment in order to "remove the males from the apartment" and "secur[e] the handgun." Ries was sleeping on his back. The officers were concerned about startling Ries as he woke up, so they decided to first remove the gun from his possession. Officer Tabatt secured Ries's hands and Officer Korus placed them in cuffs before patting Ries's clothing. When the officers could not find the gun, they rolled Ries over and saw the butt of the gun inside Ries's coat, under his side. Officer Korus retrieved the gun, which contained six live rounds. It took the officers a minute to awaken and identify Ries. After learning that Ries was not eligible to possess a firearm, Officer Tabatt placed him under arrest.

         The state charged Ries with ineligible possession of a firearm. Ries moved to suppress evidence of the gun as the fruit of an unconstitutional search and seizure. The district court denied Ries's motion, reasoning that Ries's seizure was justified by the emergency-aid exception to the warrant requirement.[1] During voir dire, potential juror A.P. disclosed that she was employed as a 911 dispatcher for the Washington County Sheriff's Department. A.P. stated that she would give more weight to a police officer's testimony because she considers herself to be their "backup." And she later added that she would likely interpret things in a 911 call that other people "might not be trained to hear" and that it would be hard for her to turn that off. Despite the prosecutor's attempts to rehabilitate A.P., she ultimately stated that she would side with police officers if there was a conflict in the testimony.

         Ries moved to strike A.P. for cause. The district court questioned A.P. further, then denied the motion, determining that A.P. was sufficiently rehabilitated. Ries did not use one of his five remaining peremptory challenges to remove A.P., who served as a juror. The jury found Ries guilty. On August 29, 2013, the district court sentenced Ries to 48 months in prison.

         On August 19, 2015, Ries filed a petition for postconviction relief, alleging that denial of his motion to remove A.P. for cause was structural error. Ries also alleged that the district court committed reversible error by denying his motion to suppress the gun.[2]The postconviction court denied the suppression motion, reasoning that Ries was not seized. But the postconviction court granted Ries's motion for a new trial because juror A.P. expressed actual bias and was not rehabilitated.

         The state appeals the reversal of Ries's conviction and grant of a new trial. In a related appeal, Ries challenges the denial of his motion to suppress the gun evidence.


         I. Did the postconviction court abuse its discretion in granting Ries a new trial ...

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