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State v. Lopez

Supreme Court of Minnesota

January 24, 2018

State of Minnesota, Respondent,
v.
Lionel Lopez, Appellant.

         Court of Appeals Office of Appellate Courts

          Lori Swanson, Attorney General, Edwin W. Stockmeyer, Assistant Attorney General, Saint Paul, Minnesota; and Shane D. Baker, Kandiyohi County Attorney, Willmar, Minnesota, for respondent. Cathryn Middlebrook, Chief Appellate Public Defender, Saint Paul, Minnesota; and

          Cheryl Hood Langel, Brian J. Kluck, Special Assistant Public Defenders, McCollum, Crowley, Moshet, Miller & Laak, Ltd., Minneapolis Minnesota, for appellant.

          Gildea, C.J. Concurring, Lillehaug, Chutich, and McKeig, JJ.

         SYLLABUS

         A hotel guest commits burglary when he enters another guest's room without consent and commits theft in that room. Affirmed.

          OPINION

          GILDEA, Chief Justice.

         The question presented in this case is whether appellant Lionel Lopez committed burglary when he entered another guest's hotel room without consent and committed a crime in that room. Following a court trial, the district court found Lopez guilty of first-degree burglary. A divided court of appeals affirmed Lopez's conviction. Because we conclude that a hotel guest commits a burglary if he or she exceeds the scope of consent by entering another guest's hotel room and committing a crime while in the other guest's room, we affirm.

         FACTS

         This case arises from a theft at a motel in Willmar.[1] On the night of the theft, Z.D. was sharing a room with a co-worker. The co-worker left the room while Z.D. took a shower. Because they had only one key to their room, Z.D. left the door opening onto the hallway unlatched while he showered. When Z.D. finished his shower, he discovered that his cell phone and wallet were gone, and he called the police.

         The State's evidence established that on the night of the theft, Lopez was also a guest at the hotel and was seen wandering the halls and checking hotel room doors to see if they were locked. When he came to Z.D.'s room, Lopez found the door unlatched and entered the room. Lopez took a cell phone and a wallet containing $42 in cash that he found in Z.D.'s room.

         Following an investigation, the State charged Lopez with first-degree burglary, Minn. Stat. § 609.582, subd. 1(a) (2016), and theft, Minn. Stat. § 609.52 (2016). Lopez waived his right to a jury trial, and following a bench trial, the district court found Lopez guilty of both offenses.

         On appeal, Lopez argued that the State failed to prove an essential element of burglary: that he entered a building without consent.[2] Specifically, Lopez contended that although a hotel is unquestionably a building, the individual rooms within it are not separate buildings. Lopez argued that, because he was a paying guest at the hotel, he had consent to enter the hotel building and therefore could not commit burglary while in the hotel. The State disagreed with Lopez's interpretation of the burglary statute and argued that an earlier case addressing the scope of consent, State v. McDonald, 346 N.W.2d 351 (Minn. 1984), controlled. A divided court of appeals affirmed Lopez's burglary conviction. State v. Lopez, 897 N.W.2d 295, 299 (Minn. 2017). We granted Lopez's petition for review.

         ANALYSIS

         On appeal, Lopez argues that his burglary conviction should be reversed because the evidence is insufficient. We use the same standard of review to evaluate the sufficiency of the evidence in bench trials and jury trials. State v. Palmer, 803 N.W.2d 727, 733 (Minn. 2011). We will not overturn a verdict, " 'if, giving due regard to the presumption of innocence and the prosecution's burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, the jury could reasonably have found the defendant guilty of the charged offense.' " State v. Chavarria-Cruz, 839 N.W.2d 515, 519 (Minn. 2013) (quoting State v. Leake, 699 N.W.2d 312, 319 (Minn. 2005)). In determining whether the evidence presented is sufficient, "it is often necessary to interpret a criminal statute." State v. Vasko, 889 N.W.2d 551, 556 (Minn. 2017).

         Lopez grounds his sufficiency-of-the-evidence argument in the first-degree burglary statute, and he contends that the State failed to prove an essential element of first-degree burglary. In order to prove that Lopez committed first-degree burglary, the State must prove, among other things, that Lopez "enter[ed] a building without consent and with intent to commit a crime, or enter[ed] a building without consent and commit[ed] a crime while in the building." Minn. Stat. § 609.582, subd. 1 (2016). A building, in turn, is defined as "a structure suitable for affording shelter for human beings including any appurtenant or connected structure." Minn. Stat. § 609.581, subd. 2 (2016).

         Lopez argues that he did not commit burglary when he entered Z.D.'s hotel room because, as a guest of the hotel, he had permission to be in the hotel building. He contends that Z.D.'s hotel room was not a separate building but was rather part of the hotel building, a building in which Lopez had consent to be. Lopez also argues that a hotel room cannot be a separate building because that would be contrary to the common understanding of what the word "structure" means. Instead, he claims that a hotel room is merely a connected structure located within the overall hotel building, rather than a separate building.

         The State disagrees with Lopez's interpretation, and contends that Z.D.'s hotel room was a separate building under the burglary statute. Because "structure" means anything assembled out of component parts, and a hotel room is a structure suitable for affording shelter to human beings, the State argues that each hotel room is a separate building. Independent of its statutory interpretation argument, the State urges us to affirm Lopez's conviction based on our analysis in State v. McDonald, 346 N.W.2d 351 (Minn. 1984).

         It is not necessary to resolve the statutory interpretation issue the parties present in this case.[3] Even if we assume that Lopez's interpretation is correct-that a hotel room is not a separate building under the definition of building in Minn. Stat. § 609.581, subd. 2- we agree with the State that McDonald is dispositive.

         The defendant in McDonald entered a drugstore during business hours, but at a time when the pharmacy inside was closed. Id. at 352. He went into a storage area "that was off limits to the general public and from there tried to gain access to the locked pharmacy for the purpose of stealing controlled substances." Id. Under the statute in effect at that time, a person committed a burglary if he or she, among other things, "enter[ed] a building without consent . . . [and] with the intent to commit a crime in it." Minn. Stat. § 609.58, subd. 2 (1982).

         We affirmed McDonald's burglary conviction. McDonald, 346 N.W.2d at 352. In so doing, we did not decide if the storage room constituted a separate building under the burglary statute. Instead, we held that the burglary was complete once McDonald exceeded the scope of his license to be present in the drugstore by entering a nonpublic area of the store-the storage room-with the intent to commit a crime. Id. We recognized that consent to enter a building may be limited to specific areas. Accordingly, a person enters a building without consent under the burglary statute when he or she enters a portion of a building where they do not have permission to be. Consistent ...


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