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State v. Bowen

Supreme Court of Minnesota

January 16, 2019

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

          Court of Appeals Office of Appellate Courts

          Keith Ellison, Attorney General, Saint Paul, Minnesota; and John J. Choi, Ramsey County Attorney, Peter R. Marker, Assistant County Attorney, Saint Paul, Minnesota, for respondent.

          Cathryn Middlebrook, Chief Appellate Public Defender, Jenna Yauch-Erickson, Assistant Public Defender, Saint Paul, Minnesota, for appellant.

         SYLLABUS

         The phrase "personal property" in Minnesota Statutes section 609.24 (2018), the robbery statute, is a technical term meaning any property other than real property. Property belonging to a business falls within the definition of "personal property" under the robbery statute.

         Affirmed.

          OPINION

          CHUTICH, Justice.

         Appellant John Lee Bowen was convicted of simple robbery for taking a bottle of brandy from a liquor store and assaulting the store manager. The sole issue here is whether the phrase "personal property" in the robbery statute, Minnesota Statutes section 609.24 (2018), includes the property of a business. Bowen challenges the sufficiency of the evidence, contending that "personal property" means property belonging to a person. Because the bottle that he took belonged to the store and not to a person, he claims that he cannot be convicted of simple robbery. The State argues that Bowen's conviction is valid because "personal property" includes all property other than real property. We conclude that the evidence is sufficient to support the conviction because "personal property" as used in the robbery statute is a technical term that has acquired the specialized meaning of all property other than real property. Accordingly, we affirm the decision of the court of appeals, which upheld Bowen's conviction.

         FACTS

         The facts here are not in dispute. Bowen entered a liquor store in Saint Paul and started an argument with a cashier. After the cashier told Bowen to leave the store, Bowen left, but he returned less than 1 hour later. When he returned, Bowen pushed a rack off of the counter and asked for the managers as he moved toward the cashier. The cashier paged the managers through the intercom system, then jumped over the counter and ran. Two managers responded; the first approached Bowen while the second called the police. Bowen began knocking liquor bottles off of the shelves behind the counter and took a bottle of brandy from one of the shelves. He then punched the approaching manager in the face. As he walked out the door carrying the bottle of brandy, Bowen said, "I'm going to come back and shoot all of you."

         The State charged Bowen with simple robbery and threats of violence. At trial, Bowen argued that the bottle of brandy was not "personal property," as required by the robbery statute. The jury found Bowen not guilty of threats of violence and guilty of simple robbery. The district court sentenced Bowen to 38 months of imprisonment but stayed execution of the sentence and placed him on probation for 5 years.

         Bowen appealed to the court of appeals, which affirmed his conviction. State v. Bowen, 910 N.W.2d 39, 41-42 (Minn.App. 2018). The court of appeals held that the meaning of "personal property" is ambiguous because the phrase could be understood according to Bowen's proposed meaning, property of a person, or the State's proposed meaning, all property that is not real property. Id. at 44. The court of appeals then examined the phrase under two canons of construction, in pari materia and imputed common law meaning. Id. at 45. The court determined that the canons of construction supported the State's meaning of "personal property" and therefore held that the State had satisfied its burden of proving that Bowen took "personal property" from the liquor store. Id. at 46. We granted Bowen's petition for review.

         ANALYSIS

         When we consider a claim of insufficient evidence, "our review . . . is limited to a painstaking analysis of the record to determine whether the evidence, when viewed in the light most favorable to the conviction, was sufficient to permit the jurors to reach the verdict which they did." State v. Webb, 440 N.W.2d 426, 430 (Minn. 1989). "When a sufficiency-of-the-evidence claim turns on the meaning of the statute under which a defendant has been convicted, we are presented with a ...


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