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State v. Carpenter

Court of Appeals of Minnesota

March 27, 2017

State of Minnesota, Respondent,
v.
Carlieke J. Carpenter, Appellant.

         Hennepin County District Court File No. 27-CR-14-15979

          Lori Swanson, Attorney General, St. Paul, Minnesota; and Michael O. Freeman, Hennepin County Attorney, Cheri A. Townsend, Assistant County Attorney, Minneapolis, Minnesota (for respondent)

          Cathryn Middlebrook, Chief Appellate Public Defender, Sara J. Euteneuer, Assistant Public Defender, St. Paul, Minnesota (for appellant)

          Considered and decided by Hooten, Presiding Judge; Reilly, Judge; and Smith, Tracy M., Judge.

         SYLLABUS

         The district court's authority to decide a post-verdict motion to acquit under Minnesota Rule of Criminal Procedure 26.03, subdivision 18, section 3, is the same in a court trial as in a jury trial.

          OPINION

          REILLY, Judge.

         Appellant argues that the district court abused its discretion by denying appellant's post-verdict motion for a judgment of acquittal following a court trial. Because we conclude that the district court abused its discretion by reading Minnesota Rule of Criminal Procedure 26.03, subdivision 18, section 3, in isolation, we reverse the decision of the district court that denied appellant's post-verdict motion for a judgment of acquittal. Because we also conclude that the state failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the total weight of the controlled substance was ten grams or more, we reverse appellant's conviction and we remand for resentencing for a second-degree offense of selling a mixture of three grams or more. Finally, the district court did not abuse its discretion when it did not compel D.H., appellant's accomplice, to testify at trial.

         FACTS

         After receiving information from a confidential reliable informant that D.H. was involved in drug activity, the Hennepin County Sheriff's Office investigators conducted surveillance at D.H.'s residence. One of the officers, Deputy Jason Hughes, observed two men leave D.H.'s residence and enter a silver Dodge Grand Caravan. The man who entered the driver's seat was known to officers as D.H., and the man who entered the passenger's seat was later identified as appellant Carlieke Carpenter. Deputy Hughes followed the Dodge Grand Caravan from D.H.'s residence to Minneapolis, where he observed the vehicle make three brief stops in a short period of time. At each stop, an unidentified individual approached the vehicle. Based on his years of experience and training, Deputy Hughes believed that the occupants of the vehicle were engaging in hand-to-hand drug transactions; but he was not in a position to directly observe the contact between D.H. and appellant, and the unidentified individuals. After the third exchange, Deputy Hughes stopped the Dodge Grand Caravan on suspicion of drug activity.

         A second officer, Sergeant Fleck, approached the driver's side door as Deputy Hughes approached the passenger's side door. The officers ordered Carpenter to raise his hands and step out of the minivan. Carpenter initially complied, then temporarily moved his hands to his lap area, but raised his hands again when Deputy Hughes redirected him to do so. As Carpenter stepped out of the minivan, Deputy Hughes saw a "plastic baggie" containing "individually wrapped rocks" fall from Carpenter's "crotch area" to the front well of the passenger seat. Because Deputy Hughes suspected the bag contained narcotics, the officers seized the bag and arrested D.H. and Carpenter on suspicion of narcotics distribution. The state later charged Carpenter with first-degree aiding and abetting the sale of ten grams or more of heroin, in violation of Minnesota Statutes section 152.021, subdivision 1(3) (2016), and first-degree aiding and abetting the possession of 25 grams or more of heroin, in violation of Minnesota Statutes section 152.021, subdivision 2(3) (2016).

         Before transferring the seized substance to the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (the BCA) for testing, Deputy Cory McLouden conducted an initial test at the Hennepin County Sheriff's Office. Deputy McLouden determined that the bag seized contained 64 individually wrapped packets of heroin, and the total weight of the substance was 31.333 grams. As part of his initial test, Deputy McLouden noted that "[a]ll of the heroin packets appeared the same in color, texture, and packaging." He also selected and tested samples at random and each sample "tested positive for heroin." McLouden did not record the number of grams tested before sending the seized bag to the BCA for further analysis.

         Sarah Goldstrand, a forensic scientist at the BCA, examined the 64 individually wrapped packets and noted that all 64 packets appeared similar in size, color, and consistency. Goldstrand used the hypogeometric sampling plan to test the packets, a statistically based randomized-sampling method generally accepted in the scientific community. The hypogeometric sampling plan calculates the required number of test samples based on: (1) the population size of the samples, (2) the statistical portion of positives in the population selected, and (3) the expected confidence level. Relying on this formula, Goldstrand determined that 19 samples must be tested, and she used a random number generator to select the 19 samples. All 19 of the selected samples tested positive for heroin; the total weight of the samples tested was 9.066 grams.

         Goldstrand testified at Carpenter's trial that the hypogeometric sampling plan supports a 95% confidence rate that 90% of the total population size contains the same substance as the 19 test samples. Based on Goldstrand's testimony, the district court concluded that, of the 31.333 grams of the substance seized, at least 28.1997 grams consisted of heroin-28.17 grams is 90% of the total sample. Because 28.1997 grams is above the 25-gram statutory amount required for first-degree aiding and abetting the possession of a controlled substance, and the ten-gram statutory amount required for first-degree aiding and abetting the sale of a controlled substance, the district court found Carpenter guilty of both charges. The district court later sentenced Carpenter to 86 months in prison for first-degree sale of a controlled substance.

         Four days after the sentencing hearing, Carpenter filed a motion for a judgment of acquittal. Relying on State v. Robinson, 517 N.W.2d 336 (Minn. 1994), Carpenter argued that the state failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he was in possession of ten or more grams of heroin, as the 19 test samples collectively weighed only 9.066 grams. After reviewing Carpenter's motion, the district court concluded that Robinson governs Carpenter's case and explained that, had it considered Robinson during trial, "it may very well . . . have granted" Carpenter's motion, but applying a narrow reading of rule 26.03, the district court reluctantly concluded that rule 26.03 only authorized it to grant a motion for acquittal following a jury trial. Because the court convicted Carpenter following a court trial, it denied his motion. The district court upheld Carpenter's 86-month sentence and released Carpenter pending this appeal.

         ANALYSIS

         I. The district court erred by concluding that it is only authorized to grant a motion for acquittal following a jury trial.

         Whether a district court is authorized to grant a post-verdict motion for a judgment of acquittal in a court trial is an issue of first impression for this court. The interpretation of the Minnesota Rules of Criminal Procedure is a question of law that we review de novo. State v. Olson, 884 N.W.2d 395, 397 (Minn. 2016) (citation omitted).

         Minnesota Rule of Criminal Procedure 26.03, subdivision 18, section 3, provides that after a verdict is entered or the jury is discharged:

(a) If the jury returns a verdict of guilty or is discharged without verdict, a motion for a judgment of acquittal may be brought within 15 days after the jury is discharged or within any further time ...

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