County District Court File No. 62-CR-16-1630
Swanson, Attorney General, St. Paul, Minnesota; and John J.
Choi, Ramsey County Attorney, Peter R. Marker, Assistant
County Attorney, St. Paul, Minnesota (for respondent)
Cathryn Middlebrook, Chief Appellate Public Defender, Jenna
Yauch-Erickson, Assistant Public Defender, St. Paul,
Minnesota (for appellant)
Considered and decided by Johnson, Presiding Judge; Hooten,
Judge; and Kirk, Judge.
term "personal property, " as used in section
609.24 of the Minnesota Statutes, means all property that is
not real property. The term includes property owned by or
belonging to a human being as well as property owned by or
belonging to a business entity.
2. In a
trial on a charge of simple robbery under section 609.24 of
the Minnesota Statutes, a district court is not required to
use the term "personal property" in its jury
instructions. If the item allegedly taken is personal
property as a matter of law, a district court does not
violate a defendant's constitutional right to a jury
trial by identifying in its jury instructions the specific
item allegedly taken.
Ramsey County jury found John Lee Bowen guilty of simple
robbery based on evidence that he took a bottle of liquor
from the shelf of a retail liquor store, punched a store
employee, and left the store with the bottle of liquor. Bowen
challenges the sufficiency of the evidence and the district
court's jury instructions. We conclude that the evidence
is sufficient to support the conviction of simple robbery
because a bottle of liquor is, as a matter of law,
"personal property." We also conclude that the
district court did not err by instructing the jury that, to
find the defendant guilty, the jury must find that the
defendant took "a bottle of liquor." Therefore, we
March 2, 2016, Bowen entered Big Top Liquors, a retail liquor
store at the intersection of University Avenue and Snelling
Avenue in St. Paul. After Bowen yelled at a cashier, she
refused to assist him and told him to leave the store. He did
so, but he returned less than an hour later. Bowen again
yelled at the cashier, entered her workspace behind the cash
register, and pushed products off a shelf onto the floor.
Bowen walked to another shelf, took a bottle of liquor, and
punched a store manager in the face. Bowen left the store
with the bottle of liquor. In a subsequent interrogation,
Bowen admitted to a police officer that he took the bottle of
liquor without paying for it.
state charged Bowen with two offenses based on the incident:
making a threat of violence, in violation of Minn. Stat.
§ 609.713, subd. 1 (2016), and simple robbery, in
violation of Minn. Stat. § 609.24 (2016). Bowen
represented himself in the district court with the assistance
of advisory counsel. See Minn. R. Crim. P. 5.04,
subd. 2. The case was tried to a jury in August 2016. The
state called six witnesses: the cashier, two managers of Big
Top Liquors, and three police officers. Bowen did not testify
and did not introduce any other evidence.
the instructions conference, the district court provided the
parties with its proposed jury instructions. The district
court proposed an instruction on the simple-robbery charge
that would require the jury to determine whether "the
defendant took a bottle of liquor in the presence of
employees of Big Top Liquors." Bowen objected to the
district court's proposed instruction on the ground that
a bottle of liquor is not "personal property, "
which is the term used in the simple-robbery statute. Bowen
requested an instruction that would have required the jury to
determine whether "the defendant took personal
property." The district court overruled Bowen's
objection, denied his request for an alternative instruction,
and gave the instruction that was originally
closing argument, Bowen did not argue that he did not take a
bottle of liquor. But he argued that, under Minnesota law,
the bottle of liquor at issue is not personal property. The
jury found Bowen guilty of simple robbery and not guilty of
making a threat of violence. The district court sentenced
Bowen to 38 months of imprisonment but stayed execution of
the sentence and placed him on probation for five years.
I. Is the evidence sufficient to support Bowen's
conviction of simple robbery?
II. Did the district court err by instructing the jury to
determine whether Bowen "took a bottle of liquor, "
not whether he "took personal property?"