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State v. Alarcon

Supreme Court of Minnesota

August 21, 2019

State of Minnesota, Respondent,
v.
Jose Alarcon, Jr., Appellant.

          Court of Appeals, Office of Appellate Courts

          Keith Ellison, Attorney General, Saint Paul, Minnesota; and, David Walker, Freeborn County Attorney, Albert Lea, Minnesota, for respondent.

          Cathryn Middlebrook, Chief Appellate Public Defender, Julie Loftus Nelson, Assistant Appellate Public Defender, Saint Paul, Minnesota, for appellant.

         SYLLABUS

         1. The phrase "leaves a primary address" in the provision that requires a predatory offender to register because of a change in the offender's primary address means that a predatory offender's living arrangement at the primary address has ended. See Minn. Stat. § 243.166, subd. 3a(a) (2018).

         2. Because subdivision 5(a) of the predatory-offender registration statute, Minnesota Statutes section 243.155 (2018), requires a knowing violation, and the circumstances proved by the State were consistent with the reasonable inference that appellant did not know that his living arrangement at his primary address, a motel, had ended, the evidence was insufficient to support appellant's conviction under the circumstantial-evidence standard.

          OPINION

          CHUTICH, JUSTICE.

         In this case we consider what it means to "leave[] a primary address" under Minnesota's predatory-offender registration statute, which makes an offender's knowing failure to register a felony offense. Minn. Stat. § 243.166, subds. 3a(a), 5(a) (2018). A jury found appellant Jose Alarcon, Jr. ("Alarcon") guilty of knowingly failing to register as a predatory offender when he did not register with local law enforcement authorities within 24 hours of leaving his registered primary address, a motel room in Albert Lea.

         Alarcon appealed, and the court of appeals affirmed, concluding that sufficient evidence sustained his conviction. We hold that to convict a defendant of knowingly failing to register when a predatory offender "leaves a primary address and does not have a new primary address," Minn. Stat. § 243.166, subd. 3a(a) (2018), the State must prove not only that the defendant's living arrangement at the primary address had ended, but also that the defendant knew that this living arrangement had ended. We further hold that the evidence at trial was insufficient to support Alarcon's conviction. The State attempted to prove by circumstantial evidence that Alarcon knew that his living arrangement at the motel had ended. The circumstances proved, however, were consistent with a reasonable inference to the contrary. We therefore reverse the decision of the court of appeals.

         FACTS

         Respondent the State of Minnesota charged Alarcon with knowingly failing to register as a predatory offender under Minnesota Statutes section 243.166, subdivision 5(a). The probable cause portion of the criminal complaint alleged that Alarcon "did not report to the arresting officer, his probation officer, or other law enforcement officer his change of primary address despite the statutory requirement to do so within 24 hours of the loss of primary address on April 3rd, [2015]." At a jury trial, the following evidence was presented.

         Alarcon was required to comply with the predatory-offender registration requirements because in August 2014, he was convicted of soliciting a child to engage in sexual conduct. See Minn. Stat. § 243.166, subd. 1b(a)(2) (2018). Upon his conviction, Alarcon signed a "duty to register" form. On the form, Alarcon acknowledged that "if I do not have a primary address I must report to the law enforcement authority with jurisdiction in the area where I will be staying within 24 hours of leaving my former primary address."

         About 4 months later, on December 15, 2014, Alarcon moved to a motel in Albert Lea. He registered the motel's address as his "primary address." Two weeks later, he updated his information to specify the room number in which he was living, and he signed another "duty to register" form. Alarcon's living arrangement with the motel was not governed by a written lease agreement. Rather, he orally agreed to pay the motel in advance for his stay-first, on a monthly basis, but then on a weekly basis and sometimes on a daily basis. At the time of the alleged offense, Alarcon was paying in advance on a weekly basis.

         Alarcon paid his rent using a credit card from a relative for nearly 4 months without incident. But on April 3, 2015, when the motel attempted to charge Alarcon for the upcoming week, the credit charge was declined. Alarcon was not at the motel that day but his personal belongings were in his room, unpacked. Because of the declined charge, the motel manager placed a "boot" on the doorknob that prevented Alarcon from re-entering the room and a note on the door about the lapsed payment. According to the manager's trial testimony, the note read, "Mr. Alarcon, your rental [sic] is due today at 11 a.m. It was not paid due to a declined credit card. We have secured your room, and to gain access to the room and your property, payment must be made." The manager did not have any other contact information for Alarcon, so was unable to reach him. After waiting 24 hours, the manager instructed his staff to pack Alarcon's belongings and place them in storage so that the room could be rented to another customer.

         Three days later, on April 6, 2015, Alarcon was arrested in Albert Lea during a traffic stop on unrelated charges. Apparently, the police discovered that Alarcon was a registered predatory offender upon his booking into jail. The next morning, the jail updated his registered primary address to reflect that he was "currently housed at the Freeborn County jail as of April 7, 2015."

         Alarcon's probation officer testified that Alarcon did not notify her that he had left his primary address at the motel on April 3, 2015, did not discuss any plans to change his primary address, and did not contact her at all during the 3-day period between April 3 and April 6, 2015. The motel manager also testified that Alarcon did not contact him during that 3-day period. The manager testified that "at some point" after April 6, 2015, Alarcon called to arrange to pick up his belongings from the motel, estimating that Alarcon retrieved his belongings a couple weeks later.

         A jury found Alarcon guilty of knowingly failing to register as a predatory offender. He was sentenced to 18 months in prison.[1] On appeal Alarcon challenged the sufficiency of the evidence at trial. The court of appeals affirmed Alarcon's conviction, concluding that the evidence was sufficient to show that he knew of his registration requirements and that he "had no arrangement to continue living [at the motel] once his payment was declined[.]" State v. Alarcon, No. A17-1325, 2018 WL 3520538, at *4 (Minn.App. July 23, 2018).

         We granted Alarcon's petition for further review in part, agreeing to consider whether the State's evidence was sufficient to support his failure-to-register conviction.

         ANALYSIS

         Under Minnesota's predatory-offender registration statute, an offender must "register" with an assigned corrections officer or, in certain circumstances, a local law enforcement authority.[2] Minn. Stat. § 243.166, subd. 3(a) (2018). Registering requires the offender to provide, among other information, a "primary address."[3] Id., subd. 4a(a)(1). A "primary address" is "the mailing address of a person's dwelling." Id., subd. 1a(g). A "dwelling" is "the building where the person lives under a formal or informal agreement to do so." Id., subd. 1a(c).[4]

         The specific registration requirement at issue involves an offender who leaves a primary address. When an offender "leaves a primary address and does not have a new primary address," the offender must "register with the law enforcement authority that has jurisdiction in the area where the person is staying within 24 hours of ...


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