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Crow v. State

Supreme Court of Minnesota

February 13, 2019

Keith Hapana Crow, Appellant,
State of Minnesota, Respondent.

         Redwood County Office of Appellate Courts

          Keith Hapana Crow, Stillwater, Minnesota, pro se.

          Keith Ellison, Attorney General, Matthew Frank, Assistant Attorney General, Saint Paul, Minnesota; and Jenna Peterson, Redwood County Attorney, Redwood Falls, Minnesota, for respondent.


         Because the claims alleged in the petition either fail as a matter of law or are procedurally barred, the postconviction court did not abuse its discretion by summarily denying appellant's petition.


         Considered and decided by the court without oral argument.



         In 2005, a jury found appellant Keith Hapana Crow (Crow) guilty of aiding and abetting the first-degree felony murder of Robert Berry, Jr. (Berry). On direct appeal, we affirmed Crow's conviction. State v. Crow, 730 N.W.2d 272 (Minn. 2007). Over the next six years-in 2008, 2009, and 2013-Crow filed three petitions for postconviction relief. Each was summarily denied by a postconviction court. On August 18, 2017, Crow filed the present petition for postconviction relief-his fourth overall-which was also summarily denied by the postconviction court without an evidentiary hearing. Because the record conclusively establishes that Crow is not entitled to relief, we affirm.


         On the evening of September 23, 2004, Crow arranged and attended a party at a friend's residence in Morton.[1] Among the guests who attended the party was Berry. Due to tension between Berry and another guest, J.P., a fight broke out during which Crow physically attacked Berry and knocked him unconscious. Later that evening, Crow-along with other guests at the party including J.P.-wrapped the still-unconscious Berry in a blanket and drove to the Minnesota River. At the river, someone stabbed Berry fifteen times, after which his body was dumped into the river. Crow fled the state but was later arrested in Montana and returned to Minnesota.

         A jury found Crow guilty of aiding and abetting first-degree felony murder while committing a kidnapping, Minn. Stat. § 609.185(a)(3) (2018), and aiding and abetting second-degree intentional murder, Minn. Stat. § 609.19, subd. 1(1) (2018). The district court entered judgment on the first-degree murder conviction and imposed the mandatory life sentence without the possibility of release. See Minn. Stat. § 609.106, subd. 2(2) (2018). We affirmed Crow's conviction on direct appeal, rejecting his claims of double jeopardy violations, inadmissible expert testimony, insufficient evidence, unconstitutional sentencing, prosecutorial misconduct, and judicial bias. See Crow, 730 N.W.2d at 272.

         Crow filed his first petition for postconviction relief on July 14, 2008, arguing ineffective assistance of counsel and prosecutorial misconduct. The postconviction court summarily denied this petition, concluding that even if Crow's allegations were true, his counsel's performance did not fall below standards of reasonableness and there was no reasonable probability that the outcome of Crow's trial would have been different. Regarding the alleged prosecutorial misconduct, the postconviction court held that such a claim was either raised during direct appeal, or was known or knowable to Crow but not raised, and consequently was procedurally barred. Crow did not appeal the denial of his first postconviction petition.

         Crow filed his second postconviction petition on January 6, 2009, arguing that Minn. Stat. § 590.05 (2018) unconstitutionally denied him appointed counsel and meaningful access to the courts in his prior postconviction proceeding. The postconviction court summarily denied Crow's second petition, holding that his right to counsel was satisfied by the representation he received on direct appeal. The postconviction court also concluded that Crow's assertion that he was unable to access the courts lacked factual support because Crow had actually succeeded in filing his prior petition. Crow failed to file a timely appeal from the denial of his second postconviction petition. See Crow v. State, No. A11-0299, Order (Minn. filed Feb. 18, 2011).

         Crow filed his third postconviction petition on March 11, 2013, arguing that he was entitled to relief because (1) newly discovered evidence in the form of an affidavit from J.P., another participant in the murder, asserted that Crow was not actively involved in the murder; (2) newly discovered evidence of an email from a juror expressed doubts about the justness of the verdict; and (3) based on the location of the residence where Crow and Berry initially fought, Crow's trial took place in the wrong venue. The postconviction court summarily denied the petition. The court ruled that J.P.'s affidavit was not newly discovered evidence because it was known or knowable to Crow or his counsel at the time of trial and on direct appeal. The court noted that the juror email was dated November 28, 2007, and, therefore, the claim was barred because Crow knew or should have known of the email's existence before his first postconviction petition in July 2008. Finally, the court concluded that the improper-venue claim was procedurally barred because Crow knew or should have known that the venue was improper when he filed his direct appeal or prior petitions. Crow did not appeal the denial of his third postconviction petition.

         In this appeal, we consider Crow's fourth postconviction petition. Crow raises several grounds for relief. First, Crow expresses frustration that the sentence of his codefendant, J.P., who was a minor when the crime occurred, was recently reduced from life in prison without the possibility of release to life in prison with the possibility of release in accordance with Jackson v. State, 883 N.W.2d 272 (Minn. 2016). Crow, who was 22 on the date of the crime, argues that his sentence should be similarly reduced. Crow also argues that he should receive a sentence similar to that of J.P. because, as an "aider and abettor," he is either less, or at most only equally, culpable for the crime. Crow further contends that Minn. Stat. § 609.185[2]-the first-degree murder statute-is unconstitutional as applied to him. In addition, Crow asserts that Minn. Stat. § 590.01 (2018)-setting forth the rules governing postconviction petitions-is unconstitutional because it denied him postconviction legal counsel. Crow contends that his counsel was ineffective at trial and on appeal. Finally, Crow alleges that his mental health conditions excuse his failure to follow the statutory two-year postconviction time restraints set forth in Minn. Stat. § 590.01.

         On November 6, 2017, the postconviction court summarily denied Crow's fourth postconviction petition without an evidentiary hearing. Concerning Crow's contention that he should be resentenced like his co-defendant, the postconviction court noted that J.P.'s resentencing was required by our decision in Jackson, which followed the United States Supreme Court's decisions in Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. 460 (2012), and Montgomery v. Louisiana, ___ U.S. ___, 136 S.Ct. 718 (2016). Those cases held that the Eighth Amendment prohibits imposing automatic sentences of life without the possibility of release on juveniles convicted of murder. Miller, 567 U.S. at 465; Montgomery, ___ U.S. at ___, 136 S.Ct. at 736 (holding that Miller applies retroactively). Because Crow was not a minor when Berry was murdered, the postconviction court held that Crow was not entitled to resentencing and that his life sentence without the possibility of release was constitutional under the precedent of this court and the Supreme Court of the United States.

         The postconviction court decided that each of Crow's remaining claims repeated claims raised, argued, and decided either in his direct appeal or in one of his previous postconviction petitions. Consequently, the court held that those claims were barred by the rule set forth in State v. Knaffla, 243 N.W.2d 737, 741 (Minn. 1976). Finally, the postconviction court rejected Crow's claim that mental health issues impeded his filing of postconviction petitions in a timely manner. The court noted that Crow had successfully submitted several prior postconviction petitions. The postconviction court also held that if Crow were arguing that his mental health was impaired at the time of trial-and not "as a deficiency or an excuse for failing to submit a timely post-conviction petition"-then his claim was Knaffla-barred because it was known, or knowable, at the time of his direct appeal and his first postconviction petition.

         Pursuant to Minn. Stat. § 590.06 (2018), Crow appealed.


         We review a postconviction court's summary denial of a petition for postconviction relief for an abuse of discretion. Andersen v. State, 913 N.W.2d 417, 422 (Minn. 2018). "A postconviction court abuses its discretion when its decision is based on an erroneous view of the law or is against logic and the facts in the record," or exercises its discretion in an arbitrary or capricious manner. Id. (quoting Brown v. State, 895 N.W.2d 612, 617 (Minn. 2017)); Zornes v. State, 903 N.W.2d 411, 416 (Minn. 2017).

         Minnesota's postconviction statute authorizes a person who claims that his conviction or his sentence violated his constitutional or legal rights to commence a proceeding "to secure relief by filing a petition in the district court in the county in which the conviction was had . . . ." Minn. Stat. § 590.01, subd. 1(1). We "liberally construe the petition and any amendments thereto," including where the petitioner is self-represented, and "look to the substance [of the petition] and waive any irregularities or defects in form." Minn. Stat. § 590.03 (2018); see Fox v. State, 913 N.W.2d 429, 433 (Minn. 2018) ("We construe Fox's petition liberally, as we do generally with pro se petitions").

         "A petition for postconviction relief filed after a direct appeal has been completed may not be based on grounds that could have been raised on direct appeal of the conviction or sentence." Minn. Stat. § 590.01, subd. 1. We have held that "when a petition for postconviction relief follows a direct appeal of a conviction, all claims raised in the direct appeal and all claims of which the defendant knew or should have known at the time of the direct appeal are procedurally barred." Davis v. State, 880 N.W.2d 373, 377 (Minn. 2016) (quoting Buckingham v. State, 799 N.W.2d 229, 231 (Minn. 2011)). This rule is known as the Knaffla-bar in light of its origin in Knaffla, 243 N.W.2d at 741. Additionally, "if [a petitioner's] claim could have been raised in a ...

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