of Appeals Office of Appellate Courts
Ellison, Attorney General, Saint Paul, Minnesota; and Michael
O. Freeman, Hennepin County Attorney, Kelly O'Neill
Moller, Assistant County Attorney, Minneapolis, Minnesota,
Cathryn Middlebrook, Chief Appellate Public Defender, Saint
Paul, Minnesota; and Frederick J. Goetz, Special Assistant
State Public Defender, Goetz & Eckland P.A., Minneapolis,
Minnesota, for appellant/cross-respondent.
Richards, Saint Paul, Minnesota, for amicus curiae Minnesota
Coalition for Battered Women.
Alexander, Minneapolis, Minnesota, for amicus curiae
Lindsay Brice, Saint Paul, Minnesota, for amicus curiae
Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault.
J. Koewler, Ramsay Law Firm, P.L.L.C., Roseville, Minnesota,
for amicus curiae Minnesota Association of Criminal Defense
Minnesota Rule of Criminal Procedure 9.01, subdivisions 1-1a,
does not require the State to permit a defendant to inspect a
crime scene that is in the control of a third party.
Assuming without deciding that the
appellant/cross-respondent's constitutional rights were
violated by the district court's decision that denied
permission to inspect the home of another person, the error
was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt.
issue presented here is whether a defendant has the right to
inspect a crime scene that is in the control of a third
party. Appellant/cross-respondent Blair Bruce Lee was
convicted of first-degree criminal sexual conduct and
domestic assault by strangulation. Lee argues that the denial
of his motions to inspect the crime scene violated Minn. R.
Crim. P. 9.01 and his constitutional rights to due process
and effective assistance of counsel. The court of appeals
held that Lee had a right under Minn. R. Crim. P. 9.01,
subds. 1-1a, to inspect the crime scene, but that Lee was not
entitled to a new trial because the denial of his motions to
inspect was harmless. We hold that Minn. R. Crim. P. 9.01,
subds. 1-1a, does not authorize an inspection of a crime
scene in the control of a third party. We further hold that
even if Lee had a constitutional right to inspect a crime
scene in the control of a third party, any error in denying
that right was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. We
lived with his wife, S.M.L., and their children in a
single-family house. As a result of a violent confrontation
between Lee and S.M.L., Lee was charged with first-degree
criminal sexual conduct, Minn. Stat. § 609.342, subd.
1(e)(i) (2018), and domestic assault by strangulation, Minn.
Stat. § 609.2247, subd. 2 (2018).
trial, Lee moved to amend the pretrial conditions of release
and domestic abuse no-contact order (DANCO) to allow his
counsel and investigator to enter his former residence to
inspect and photograph the crime scene. Lee and S.M.L.
leased the house as co-tenants, but the DANCO prevented Lee
from residing at or accessing his former home or granting
access to a third party. Lee argued that, without access to
the residence, defense counsel "would not have the
ability to fully cross-examine" S.M.L. "about the
events taking place within that residence." Defense
counsel stated that "I may not know what I'm
interested in. I may only know it when I see it."
Defense counsel also stated that prohibiting him "from
investigating and exploring and understanding the layout and
the complexion of where this alleged event took place"
was "a deprivation and denial of [Lee's] due process
rights." The district court denied the motion.
sought a writ of prohibition from the court of appeals. In an
order by a special term panel, the court of appeals held that
the order denying Lee's motion was contrary to State
v. Michael Gary Lee (Michael Gary Lee), 461
N.W.2d 245 (Minn.App. 1990), under which Lee had a right to
inspect the home. State v. Blair Bruce Lee, No.
A16-1597, Order at 3 (Minn.App. filed Nov. 1, 2016). The
court of appeals, however, denied the petition for a writ of
prohibition. Id. at 4. It noted that although the
first and second prongs required for a writ of prohibition
were satisfied, Lee had not satisfied the third prong-that
the district court's decision "must result in injury
for which there was no adequate remedy." Id. at
4 (quoting State v. Turner, 550 N.W.2d 622, 625
(Minn. 1996)). Because Lee could challenge the district
court's discovery ruling "in an appeal from final
judgment of conviction," the court of appeals held that
he had not "demonstrated that the ordinary remedy of an
appeal from judgment does not provide an adequate
the denial of the writ of prohibition, Lee renewed his motion
in the district court for access to the crime scene. Lee
argued that he needed to inspect the crime scene in order to
"undercut the credibility" of S.M.L. by showing
"where objects are and walls are" and showing
"spaces" and "dimensions" inside the
home. Lee further argued that the court of appeals determined
that the district court's original denial of the motion
was contrary to law. The district court denied Lee's
jury trial, S.M.L. testified that Lee's assault began in
the bedroom where he repeatedly poured water on her and then
moved to the living room where he pinned her to the ground.
He bit her breasts over her shirt and pulled her pants down.
Lee forcibly pushed multiple fingers into S.M.L.'s anus
as she struggled to free herself. He also sought to penetrate
her vagina with his fingers but was unable to do so because
she was struggling. S.M.L. began to scream, and Lee covered
her mouth with his other hand. S.M.L. tried to call out for
the landlord, whose house was next door, but Lee pushed a
towel onto her face. She testified that he said "die,
die" while he held the towel, and she began to have
abruptly got off of S.M.L. and stood up. When S.M.L. stood
up, Lee began hitting her in the chest and ribs and continued
to punch her until her cell phone fell out of her pocket. Lee
grabbed the cell phone and ran out of the house. S.M.L.
eventually went back to bed after Lee left in his truck. She
woke to Lee shining a light into her face and holding a cup
of water in his hand. S.M.L. asked him where her phone was,
and he said it was not on him, so she went outside to look
for it. Lee followed her outside and told her he could kill
her there, and no one would know. S.M.L. began to run and
waited outside as Lee went back inside. She stayed outside
until she heard her 2-year-old awake and Lee leave the house.
Lee eventually returned and fell asleep on the couch.
prosecutor asked S.M.L. to draw a picture of the layout of
the home and went through the diagram with S.M.L., asking her
to explain the drawing in detail to the jury. The prosecutor
then asked S.M.L. to explain where everyone was in relation
to the diagram on the day of the assault. At several points,
using the diagram, the prosecutor asked S.M.L. to demonstrate
where she was and where Lee was. On cross-examination,
defense counsel asked S.M.L. about the layout of her house
and pieces of furniture and other items inside it. Much of
defense counsel's cross-examination emphasized ...