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State v. Bowen

Court of Appeals of Minnesota

April 2, 2018

State of Minnesota, Respondent,
v.
John Lee Bowen, Appellant.

          Ramsey County District Court File No. 62-CR-16-1630

          Lori 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.

         SYLLABUS

         1. The 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.

          OPINION

          JOHNSON, Judge

         A 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 affirm.

         FACTS

         On 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.

         The 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.

         During 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 proposed.[1]

         In his 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. Bowen appeals.

         ISSUES

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?"

         ANALYSIS

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